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The good news is, I'm doing great on time. I'm about a third of the way through my trip to deliver presents to every NPC household in Skyrim (read Part 1 here, and Part 2 here) and I've only burned about an hour and a half. I should be able to wrap this up by midnight. But then, there's Riften.
Better Not Pout
Typically, when I break into someone's home, I get a few stern warnings before they call the guards. Not so at Snow-Shod Farm outside Riften. I let myself in and Leonara Arus immediately draws a dagger and attacks. Outside, some Riften guards do likewise. I take off, but Rudolph crashes into the river, leading to a serious reindeer malfunction.
That's how I arrive in Riften: already wanted by the cops and running in place on a magical reindeer's back. It takes long minutes to make my way through the city, with guards in pursuit, hacking at my body and blocking every single doorway. Eventually, I spot one building in Skyrim desperately in need of a little Christmas cheer: Honorhall Orphanage.
I know this experiment is a goof, but I thought visiting the orphans on Christmas Eve and giving them presents might be, I dunno, a genuinely nice little moment? Well, it's not. Imagine, just for a minute, being an orphan in Skyrim. Your headmistress, Grelod, is in the process of calling you names and telling you you'll never be adopted. Suddenly, the door crashes open and someone sort of dressed like Santa Claus bursts into the room. He's filled with arrows and covered with blood, and there are a dozen soldiers stabbing him in the back as he forces his way through the crowd, dropping pieces of armor and enchanted weapons on your beds.
Santa, apparently exasperated by the ordeal, suddenly whips out a giant two-handed sword and starts hacking away at Grelod, probably thinking to himself, "Might as well do some good while I'm here." He kills her, slashes in anger at a few guards, and flees, leaving behind a dead headmaster, an odd collection of gifts, a bloodstained floor, and a collection of horribly traumatized orphans. Merry Christmas, everyone!
Finally, I flee from Riften, not knowing who I delivered to and who I missed. I no longer care. It's time to fly.
I'm glad that unpleasantness is over with. How about some new unpleasantness, then?
The dragon, ultimately, isn't a huge deal. It can't really drain my extensive hit points, and while it follows me for a good long while, I eventually duck into a home near a mill, and when I emerge, it's gone. I hit another orc stronghold, some farms, and finally reach Windhelm.
The frosty city is wonderfully peaceful. Now that its a bit later, a lot of people are actually sleeping and almost no one is on the street. A give a beggar a coin, a beggar I once considered marrying in another life. I actually make it all the way through the city without triggering the guards and any real animosity from anyone.
Be Good For Goodness' Sake
More stops at mills, and then make my way to Winterhold, which is also uneventful (I can't access the college, however). Next, I visit Frostflow Lighthouse, and let myself in. Then I quickly let myself back out. Santa didn't see nothin'.
At Dawnstar I visit the Dark Brotherhood sanctuary, though the evil door won't let me in so I just drop some coal for those naughty assassins. In Dawnstar proper, I somehow anger a citizen named Hroggar, who follows me from house to house through the entire town, whacking me on the back with his axe. No one else gets ruffled, though: even the guards don't care. It's only 10:35 p.m., so clearly I'm not in a race against the clock. Why not take a little me-time and murder this Hroggar a-hole? I select a gift from my pack, a giant two-handed sword, and cut him down. I take his axe as a potential present, and leave.
Finally, I reach Whiterun, my final stop. I dash in and out of the surrounding farms and mills without issue, and even get through the first few stores in peace. Then I meet Lars Battle Born, who shall forever now be known as The Jerk Kid Who Ruined Whiterun Christmas. He starts warning me, immediately, that I need to get out of his house, despite the fact that I've very nicely dropped a potion of True Shot on his bed. What little boy wouldn't want his bow to do 20% more damage for 60 seconds? He also seems completely unimpressed when, a moment later, I (accidentally) summon Rudolph in his house.
Unimpressed by the appearance of a magical reindeer, the Battle Born kid calls the guards, and I'm back to shouldering my way through crowds of swords and arrows as I make my deliveries. Eventually, I make my way to Dragonsreach. Lydia is there, and is nice enough to fight the guards for me while I stagger around dropping presents.
In the hall, I snatch a bunch of Santa hats from the barrel and put one on. It took all night, but I finally feel like Santa again! My final stop is the bedroom of Jarl Balgrull, where I sarcastically deposit a spare Santa hat on his pillow while he rouses from slumber. Remember me, Jarl. Remember the hat. That's my calling card. And I'll be back. Santa will be back... for you.
I'm officially calling an end to Christmas. I burst onto the Dragon Porch, summon Rudolph, and take off, circling back for one more angry pass over the heads of those anti-Santas. It's 10:56 p.m. I know I probably missed a ton of NPCs amidst the crowds of guards, but I did the best job a I could. I may not be the best Santa, but I'm the Santa Skyrim deserves.
Happy holidays! And remember, if you see Santa this Christmas, please don't summon the guards.
It's the 24th of Evening Star, Skyrim's version of December. As I stand at the North Pole (Septimus Signus's Outpost, the north-iest point I could find), 7:59 clicks over to 8:00 p.m. It's time to deliver a present to every NPC household in Skyrim. (Confused? See Part 1.)
I hop on Rudolph's back, then hop back off. I know I decided not to deliver to caves, but Septimus Signus is, like, right here. I run into his ice cave where he's pacing around. He looks cold. He doesn't even have a bed. I drop him a bear pelt.
Then I'm off for real! I hop onto Rudolph and fly my way to my first real stop: Solitude Lighthouse, home of an NPC called Ma'zaka. Ma'zaka's door is locked, but my new Knock spell works perfectly, and at 8:03 p.m., I break in. He's standing right inside the door and immediately warns me: "You're not supposed to be here." After stumbling around for a moment, I find his bedroom in the back, and drop a Amulet of Dibella on the floor next to his bed.
"Last warning," he says. "Leave. Now." Well, merry Christmas to you too, jerk.
I head to the Thalmor Embassy. Along the way, I begin to discover a few of Rudolph's flaws, namely, that when he collides with something, like a mountain or an invisible wall at the edge of the map, he plummets to the ground. Also, when I climb off his back, I sometimes continue to fly on my own. Trying to open doors when you're hovering eight feet above them is tricky.
Another problem: the Thalmor Embassy is locked, and needs its own key. My Knock spell can't open locks that can't normally be picked. Oh well. I drop an Amulet of Kynareth at the feet of the Thalmor Wizard guarding the entrance. "Just leave your refuse wherever you see fit!" she spits sarcastically at me. Ho-kay. I'm not really feeling the Christmas spirit so far. I'm off to Solitude.
I deliver gifts to the residents of The Winking Skeever, the city's inn, and magically pick the lock of Radiant Raiment. I crash around looking for the owner's bedroom while she issues warnings to me to leave. Before I can navigate my way out of her home, she starts yelling. "Guards! Help! Tresspasser!" That's when Christmas officially gets messy.
Outside, the guards try to arrest me, and I flee into Angeline's Aromatics. They follow as I run upstairs and drop some trinkets near the bed, then they block the stairs as I try to leave, while Angeline chants "You need to leave. You need to leave." I finally manage to maneuver past the guards and back onto the street. I make it into Bits and Pieces, leave an enchanted axe on the bed, and run into a massive crowd of guards by the door. There are so many soldiers I can't force my way past them. As Santa, I've only played the main quest as far as Dragonsreach, so I don't have a Fus Roh Ho Ho Ho Dah shout to blast them out of my way. I'm stuck! Desperate, I summon Rudolph, whose giant fat butt creates enough of a gap in the guards for me to squeeze through to the door.
There are now a dozen guards after me. After a few more quick deliveries to the remaining stores, my Santa speed takes me to the other end of the city quickly enough for the guards to lose sight of me, and I get to make a few deliveries in relative peace. I hit a few homes, drop a ton of loot in the extensive Bard's College, and visit Styrr in the Hall of the Dead, all without incident.
Then I head to the Blue Palace, where the guards immediately attempt an arrest again. Unfortunately, this time I accidentally pick the "Pay my bounty" option. This means they confiscate any stolen goods I've got. I've bought all my gifts legitimately, but I do have one stolen item: my Santa hat, since I "stole" it from the barrel in Dragonsreach. They unceremoniously strip it from me. My Santa hat! My festive lid! Gone! I'm deeply upset.
My giving mood has been spiked, and I start leaving charcoal for everyone else in Solitude. I'm pleased to see that charcoal comes in sticks, and those sticks look like poo, which feels fitting for these ungrateful citizens. Outside the city, even Rudolph isn't feeling cooperative: when I summon him, he appears on a ledge out of reach. I leave him there and run to the stables and farms outside Solitude on foot.
I then fly off to Mor Khazgur, an orc stronghold. We arrive with Rudolph sporting an arrow in his face due to us passing too close to a few angry bandits with no Christmas cheer but plenty of good aim.
The orcs are not thrilled to see me bursting into their longhouse and crashing around, dropping loot by their beds, but despite several stern threats they never get violent. A half-hour into my trip, I visit Dragon Bridge, then arrive in Falkreath at 8:40. They welcome me with open arms. Open arms that shoot flames and ice bolts. Someone even summons a ghost dog to attack me. Does real Santa have to put up with this crap?
I've hated Falkreath even before tonight: it sports a confusing multi-level layout that makes it hard to find doors that you can see on the map. Now I've also come to hate its easily-angered residents. Still, by 8:52, we're out of there, having either visited everyone or perhaps gotten sick of trying to visit everyone while surrounded by angry guards and wizards. Rudolph is having major problems by this point, crashing to earth every few seconds while in flight, meaning we're constantly being attacked on the ground by Forsworn, bandits, wolves, and sabre cats. No one seems happy to see Santa tonight!
Well, the first leg of my trip didn't go well. But at least that means things can't go worse, right?
Things go worse. Next time, on Serial. Continue to Part 3.
Let's skip the requisite preamble paragraph and get right to it. Here's the plan: in Skyrim, I'm going to use mods and console commands to transform my character into Santa Claus. Then I'm going to deliver gifts to every single NPC household in Skyrim. And I'm going to do it in a single night.
As an aspiring Santa in Skyrim, I face a few challenges. First, a heavy workload. Even a quick glance at the Elder Scrolls wiki shows 115 NPC homes, and I strongly suspect there are more. For instance, the owners of stores often live in rooms above their shops, not in separate homes, so those aren't listed on that page. Cities have castles and palaces stuffed with NPCs who actually live there. There are orc strongholds, two Dark Brotherhood sanctuaries, a few mills that aren't listed, a couple lighthouses, and so on.
For sanity's sake, I'm going to define NPCs as characters who have actual names. I don't plan to do forts or towers, for example: bandits, while naughty and deserving of coal, typically aren't named, and thus can't be on Santa's list. Same with guard barracks: guards are just guards, they have no outside lives that I'm aware of, other than gently mocking passing heroes. No caves, either: while there are some named NPCs living in caves, they're not getting presents because, look: don't live in a cave, okay? Shacks, typically, are inhabited by monsters, or dead bodies, or no one, so I'm skipping those as well. Following those guidelines, I've come up with my general route.
Now, to look a bit closer at the details. Just by examining the city of Solitude and making notes, I've counted up 76 NPCs who need presents. Granted, many of them share lodgings, so I should be able to dump presents for entire families in a matter of moments, but that's still a lot of individual stops. More than I had really thought there would be.
Which means I really need to do something about the duration of Christmas Eve. First of all, vanilla night is not nearly long enough: the day/night cycle in Skyrim is set at 20:1, where every minute of real-time equals 20 minutes of in-game time. Using the console command 'set timescale to 1' makes the passage of time in Skyrim identical to real-time. Provided I start at 8:00 p.m., and plan to be done by 8:00 a.m., that should give me enough time for the trip.
Quick! Before I decide this is a terrible idea, let's turn me into Santa. Using a new character, I begin by getting in the mood with a little santa cosplay. I found this Santa hat mod, which places a Santa hat (actually, 1000 of them) in a barrel inside Dragonsreach. That's a good start. I also avail myself of a bright red Santa coat with another mod.
As magical as Santa is, I'm still going to refrain from using fast-travel, but I'll make up for it by traveling fast. I use the console code 'player.forceav speedmult' and set it to 800 (the normal movement speed is 100). That makes me fast. Real fast. A test run, however, gives me a new problem.
As you can see, whooshing around Skyrim like Quicksilver means I can very easily fling myself off a cliff and die from the impact. I'm tempted to just use God mode —Santa is of course immortal—but being immortal, in my mind, doesn't mean you can't be killed, just that you won't die naturally from aging. So, I just boost my health to 10,000 using another console code. I also lower my speed back down to 200: that will keep me fleet but I'll still be able to stop easily enough to open doors.
Speaking of doors: how will I get into all of those homes? It's not like I'm going to skulk through the world pick-pocketing the house keys off every single NPC in advance (though, note to self, I should do that sometime). I sure as hell don't want to play the lock-picking mini-game all night. So, I'll do it the same way a morbidly obese elf traditionally fits down a chimney: with magic. I find it a little lame that Skyrim doesn't have a simple Knock spell, which should reside in every magician's bag of tricks, but as with everything, there's a mod for that. This mod lets me cast an Open Lock spell and then crack open a door in short order.
Now that I dash from door to door, and open those doors without lockpicks or keys, there's the question of quickly getting between towns and cities. That's where Rudolph comes in, via another mod. I can summon him with a spell, hop on his back, and fly through the air. Perfect! I also increase his movement speed with another console cheat.
Another issue pops up. If I'm doing this at nighttime, when everyone is at home all snug in their beds in their kerchiefs, caps, and full plate armor, it's going to be dark, possibly very dark. Not only will this make it tough for me to find my way around, but it's going to make for some terrible screenshots. Thankfully, yet another mod gives me a spell to control the weather, including changing it to Sovngarde conditions, which are bright and magical and even shower down little sparkles that look like snow. It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas! I also install a lovely UI mod to help me keep track of the time on-screen. It adds a widget that displays the current time, including a little graphic showing the moon in the sky. Perfect.
Next, I mull over my gift options. It would be in keeping with tradition to actually craft the presents, but I don't want to spend hours standing at a forge, and I don't have an army of unpaid elves to do it for me. So, I rush around to every store in Skyrim, buying the best in armor, weapons, clothing, potions, ingots, and jewelry. I also acquire some charcoal in case I come across anyone naughty. Naturally, to carry all this loot I need to increase my carryweight ('player.setav carryweight 10000' oughta do it).
Okay! I'm ready to spend the night breaking into people's homes all over Skyrim. What could go wrong?
Next time: a bunch of things go wrong. Continue to Part 2.
Enderal is the Skyrim-based sequel to top Oblivion mod Nehrim: At Fate's Edge. It occupies a similar space of disbelief in my mind, too. Normally, I would never assume a total conversion of this size and scope could ever make it to release. But then, I thought the same about Nehrim and that did come out—despite what years of watching big mods get dragged down by drama has taught me.
Can Enderal be similarly real? The mod's makers not only think so, but think it'll happen next year. As proof of their intentions, they've released a trailer filled with scenes and environments from the game. It certainly looks like it exists.
For more on Enderal, head over to its ModDB page.
I’m curious: just how does one acquire a Shard of Order? First you’d need to shatter an intangible concept, which seems like a lot of hard work, even for a fantasy big boss. Ordering a Shard seems a lot easier: you can just have one custom-made by any number of Skyrim merchants. Enderal, whoever you are – you have my number. Call me.
It's been a while since we last checked in on Enderal—the Skyrim total conversion from the makers of Nehrim: At Fate's Edge. Now that ModDB's annual award season has started, though, in-progress mods are rumbling to life in order to maybe tempt you into giving them a vote. Hence this trailer: a look at the game's Undercity. It's an atmospheric place, even if it doesn't show much beyond the environment and its inhabitants.
Enderal is a sequel to Nehrim, and as such aims to create a world unrelated to TES's Tamriel with a "complex, dark storyline and thousands of secrets to discover". There's still no end to development in sight, but the mod's makers promise more video updates in the new year.
I have The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter installed on my PC and ready to go. But there’s something that’s been playing on my mind regarding that game before I’ve even booted it up. It’s been nagging at me ever since I watched a video from Andy Kelly’s Other Places series the one which focuses on Ethan Carter’s Red Creek Valley and it finally crystallised a problem I’ve been experiencing for years without being able to put it into words.
Just after a shot of a dam there’s a lingering shot of a churchyard. In the foreground a handless statue of Jesus marks the grave of a woman named Thusnelda. In the background the autumn trees sway in the breeze and the weed-infested grass well, I want to say that it sways but it’s a sway which comes via a clump-by-clump waggle. That grass is why I’m proposing there exists a foliage version of the uncanny valley.