When in Doubt, Expect the Undead

The sun was high over the Skyrim valley. Riverwood, the small settlement I found myself, seemed pleasant enough. I immediately went to the forge next to Hadvar’s uncle’s cabin. I learned how to use the tanning rack to make leather from the two wolves that we killed while hiking into town. Then I checked out the forge itself, the grindstone, and workbench. I realized that I could not do too much as of yet, but I was excited to find more ingots and begin crafting.

Leaving the forge, I headed across the pebble way to the general store: the Riverwood Trader. Inside, the miscellaneous goods lined the walls and counter, but the two humans arguing caught my attention first. A male behind the counter was talking to a woman near the door. I assumed they were husband and wife, and their conversation seemed to involve some bandits. It ended with the woman walking over the other side of the room allowing me to barter with the actual owner. However, before selling the assortment of crap I had collected in the tutorial dungeon, I asked the shopkeeper about his argument.

As it turns out, the woman was his sister, and the Riverwood Trader was the until-recent home of an ancient artifact known as the Golden Claw. At the time, the claw seemed no more important than other fetch quests in Bethesda’s previous game Oblivion. Little did I know that the series of claw artifacts would be a recurring subplot in Skyrim. So after talking with the shopkeeper, Lucan Valerius, I learned of the break-in and the thief’s retreat across the river. As a guide, Lucan sent his sister Camilla to help direct me. While this was meant to be helpful, in reality I was forced to follow her out of the store (without selling anything), and walk with her past the town’s inn to a stone bridge. She took a couple of steps on the bridge before telling me that all I had to do was cross the stream and follow the path and it will take me up to Bleak Falls Barrow. The name sounded like the dungeon that Hadvar pointed out on the slopes of the mountain opposite the river. Now, I had not memorized the name, so I could only assume that the two dungeons are one and the same. (At this point, I would like to thank elderscrolls.wikia.com and the vast community there for having the official names of this stuff.)

Camilla turned and left me standing on the edge of town. I was still carrying more stuff than I needed, so I returned to the Riverwood Trader, bypassing Camilla on the way, and sold a lot of random things to Lucan. I was initially disappointed when discovering that Bethesda adopted Fallout 3’s, not Oblivion’s, trading system: the merchant has a set amount of money that replenishes every so often. I preferred Oblivion’s system where each merchant only had a set amount of gold willing to trade for a particular item but theoretically infinite number of actual septims (gold coins) in total for all the things you would sell. Thankfully I did not have a lot of stuff to sell so I did not need to worry about him running out money. I briefly checked his list of goods, but I had developed a habit of only selling to a store. The times in Oblivion when I checked for something to purchase, I either found items worse than my own or too expensive to invest in a single weapon or simply too expensive for my poor adventurer’s pay. Nonetheless, I searched the trader’s wares. Here I discovered that you learn new spells by reading spell tomes rather than paying a specific spellcaster. That said, Valus had a few tomes but I only purchased a book for shooting sparks similar to my flame spell. If my experience back in Kvatch has taught me anything it is that not all enemies are weak to fire. Nothing like entering the Oblivion gate only to find my fireballs did nothing to scamps and dremora.

But I digress. I am playing Skyrim, and the events of Kvatch happened 200 years ago. So I purchased my tome and sold my things. I learned my new spell and continued on my way. I carefully avoided the chicken in the road for reasons already mentioned and made my way to the only other establishment in the town: the Sleeping Giant Inn. Inside I found a drunken bar fly and a bard. The bartender was cleaning his counter and a young woman was walking around. The architecture for the inn is actually standard across all of Skyrim. A long fire is the center piece with a few tables to the right of the entrance and longer tables along both walls with several rooms in the back with the counter. I talked with the bar fly, but he was generally unhelpful. I also made it over to talk with the bard, stopping him from singing. He tipped me off about the bard’s college in Solitude. I should also mention that Hadvar and his family also pointed out Solitude to me but as a base for the Imperial Legion. So, I quietly marked Solitude as a point of interest. Solitude was on the far side of the map and too far to walk for only two quests. Although I hate to admit it, Whiterun seemed to be the first city I needed to visit. Then the bard got down to business and handed me a letter that he wanted me to give to some girl and said it was from some elf. I did not listen to him really because I wanted to talk with everyone before going off after the claw, the only real quest in the town.

I still had to talk to the bartender, a fairly nice Nord named Orgnar. He allowed me to use the alchemy lab in the corner and directed me to the owner of the Sleeping Giant if I wanted a bed. Well I was happy to check out the alchemy lab. In Skyrim, as compared to Oblivion, the alchemy must be done at a specific station rather than anytime and anywhere if you have the proper equipment. This makes a little more sense. Rather than stopping in the middle of the woods to craft some potions, you have to be at proper table. Another difference between the two games is the discovery of a particular ingredient’s uses. In Oblivion, one had to master alchemy and a new ability was unlocked each 25 levels in the skill. In Skyim, it is done simply by using it in conjuncture with another ingredient with the same power. This meant I opened up the menus to discover that among the meager ingredients I have found, I did not know a single power. Another difference that I did not realize until later is that food, like apples, are no longer used in potion making. That said, I had collected a lot of food for alchemy and still had not realized that their uses are pointless when faced with good potions. Slowly but surely, I removed food from inventory by selling it, eating it when not really necessary, and cooking it. (This process has taken 30 game hours. Apples are too useless to keep and too cheap to sell, and my kleptomania would not let me simply drop it.)

With my business in the bar done, I stepped outside into the cold Skyrim air and realized it was too dark to go hiking out into the mountains. So I turned around and asked the proprietor for a room. I had a hard time finding which room was mine, but received a good night’s rest when I did. I talked with the bard again and realize I can request a song. I was debating doing a classic “Do you take requests? I request you stop singing.” To my great surprise, asking him stop was an option. However, my Oblivion character (back when Elder Scrolls involved such barbaric things as classes) was a bard class so I took pity on him and did not blatantly insult him. I instead asked him to play some song called the “Age of Aggression” to which he replied that only true Imperials ask for such a song. I thought he was referring to my Imperial race, which made my heart swell with pride as I gave my race the respect it deserves. So I left the Sleeping Giant Inn for the great adventures of Skyrim.

I had set my heart on heading to Bleak Falls Barrow, or whatever it was called. (I think I called it the wrong name in my last article.) However, I wanted to at least find the elf that the bard mentioned. I quickly marked him on my map and the arrow pointed me to a small wooden bridge between the gate and the smith. On the way I found an elderly woman walking the streets and she informed me that she is the ipsofacto leader of the town as she owns the mill. I returned to searching for the elf and headed to the bridge near the gate. The bridge led to an island in the center of the river where the logging mill the woman mentioned was based. The elf was working there, chopping wood. As I approached, he was leaving, so I had to stop him on the wooden bridge. I spoke with him, and the game offered a chance for me to reveal the bard’s intentions. Apparently they were both fighting over the same woman (who I assumed was the owner of the bar) and the bard was trying to sabotage the elf’s chances. Well, the elf decided to be the better man and gave me a letter and told me to give it to the same woman and say that this one was from the bard. I read both letters, and neither seemed overly hurtful besides subliminal traces of sexism. I did not really want to get involved in this love triangle, so I pocketed both before talking to the man working the actual mill itself.

He was a large man and probably would have made a good general, not that that is saying much in a province of powerful Nords. I did not understand how the large, roofed work area did its job with only a lever, but I ignored any questions and asked for work. After all, I am poor adventurer who does not yet want to make his way to a large city. He told me to bring him some chopped wood. I returned to the stump where the elf was cutting firewood and the game informed me that I needed a woodcutter’s axe. I happened to find one nearby at another pile of wood and added it to my inventory. I was surprised when it was counted as a weapon and even more surprise by how much it weighed. For a simple axe, it was pretty heavy. I returned and watched as Skyrim took over and showed my Tylarn, dressed in an old hood and mismatch armor, delicately placing wood on the stump, carefully raising the axe, and chopping the block in half. I was shocked! The game was doing this job for me, and it required absolutely nothing from my part. I had thought Bethesda would take a page from Lionhead Studio’s book and bring in mini-games of quick time events like Fable II and Fable III. My roommate, the helpful advisor that he is, suggested I leave the game on overnight and let my character do his work until dawn while I sleep. I have never been one that wanted to leave their console running all the time (Fable III being a big exception), so I told him that sounded like a bad idea. Besides, I would pour hundreds of hours into the game and probably did not need all the money. I stopped my character and gave the newly chopped firewood to the burly man still standing by the mill. He paid me about 10 septims per piece of wood, so the amount of money was not actually worth the time. I decided that if I was near a chopping block and felt the call of nature, I would let the Skyrim control my player while I took a bio break.

To make more room in my pouch, I dropped the wood axe by the stump and walked back through Riverwood toward the stone bridge Camilla directed me to earlier. Now, I could not really remember her directions, but I think she just told me to cross the river and follow the path; so I did. I was still within earshot of the river when the path diverged around a large rock. My character cursed under his breath while I complained to my roommate. That little woman was completely useless. All she did was direct me out of her town, which I could have figured out on my own. So I turned once again to my ever-helpful roommate and he suggested I take the right. I once again ignored him and took the left path which took a small incline around the boulder. Then the path took a turn to the right and there was a little patch of dirt that rose from near the river to meet my path. I briefly paused to consider if it was the right path and if both paths led to this same place, but then I saw the pebble road from the right path continue to run down by the river at a lower elevation than my current position. My character continued on the road while my roommate and I continued to discuss the fork. For being completely pointless, it raised a lot of controversy.

I came upon a sharp corner in the road where some people had gathered. I did not think they were bandits because my Oblivion experiences taught me that bandits instantly attack you upon sight, and these men did not. I approached a little hesitant, and that was when I learned that Skyrim bandits do not charge at you from down the road. They were still hostile and still (foolishly) attacked me. Those bandits were not too difficult and each fell before me. Once I raided the bodies, I realized I could follow the path that I had been following or going down where the bandits had set up. It was only a small ruin which I quickly raided before continuing up the path. Soon, I found the large skeleton remains of Bleak Falls Barrow. Large, Nordic archways covered the top of the mountain. I had seen these ruins from the valley when walking with Hadvar, and as a player I recognized it from pre-release game play. In the video, the hero is confronted with a mighty dragon. I am only confronted with more bandits, probably a little upset after I killed their men stationed at an outpost. Ducking behind pillars, unleashing a fury of both flames and sword swings, I defeated all the outside bandits. With no dragon in sight, I entered the ruins proper.

The left side of the dungeon wall was letting in sunlight, and I entered with my head down and stuck to the shadows on the right. I got around to an altar before the bandits spotted me. I began to duel the bandits, slightly outmatched as more enemies keep coming to challenge me from the shadows. When all was said and done, I searched the bodies and discovered that one was a blackened, skeletal remains of man labeled draugr. I quickly learned that draugrs are Skyrim’s zombies, and specifically the undead remains of Nords still equipped with their weapons used at the time of their death. I continued through the ruins facing no more bandits but a constant stream of draugrs as they charged at me. I found their ancient Nordic swords to be better than the pathetic sword I picked up from the Imperial legion’s scrap pile. I also found that at times duel wielding the flame spell was better than any blade. I still had not purchased the perk for a bonus to duel wielding destruction spells, but I nonetheless enjoyed the two jets of flames as they burned those cursed Nords in their tracks.

Like most dungeons, the twists and turns, skirmishes, loots, scattered chests of treasures and specific strategy does not really matter or even stick with the player a day or two after the dungeon run. The only notable thing about the ruins was the introduction of the serpent, hawk, and fish emblems. That is what I have denoted them, and that is pretty much accurate. Many ruins in Skyrim, I discovered, used a basic puzzle of these symbols decorating the walls and set of rotating pillars that the player must match to the fixed decoration. However, it took me several tries at this. Each time one believes the pillars are in the correct order, they must pull a lever. If the symbols are correctly lined up, a gate will open allowing the adventurer to continue. If the symbols are off, poison darts will be launched from the walls. I found that this particular dungeon allowed me to pull the lever and escape the fire of darts, eliminating the fear of failure and giving me plenty of time to discover how these puzzles are solved. Initially, I did not see all the fixed symbols which led to the confusion, but since then has caused no problem when faced with similar situations.

I was able to get the Golden Claw without any real trouble and found that I was faced with a great door that had rotating arcs above a set of holes. The arcs were in fact large rings that could be rotated and always formed a line of three symbols, different from the animals mentioned previously. I realized the claw naturally fit into the holes, but I saw nothing on the walls that gave any indication to the pattern of the symbols. Then I realized that Skyrim added a new, subtle change that could help in puzzles. Each item in your inventory could be examined. I pulled out the claw and saw that on the hand were three symbols similar to the ones on the door. These were not as easy to see or identify as the animal emblems, but I was able to correctly match the two sets up and open the door to the final room.

Inside was a magnificent chamber, with water running down the walls and sunlight pouring in from the ceiling. The far wall was ornately decorated, and there were no enemies in sight. As I approached a section of the far wall, I noticed the lower part was filled with strange writings and one of the words began to glow blue. I stared straight at it and learned the first word for the “unrelenting force” shout. I did not yet know what to do with these words of power, but I figured the game would teach me in due time. I prepared to raid of the rest of the room and leave in peace when a coffin nearby burst open and a boss draugr attacked. I should have known that the coffin would open with the undead. After all, that is just common sense! After a respectable boss battle, I raided the last of the room and took a side passage outside. This other path out was to be another theme of Skyrim dungeons. If you successfully finish a dungeon, there should be a faster way out than backtracking.

Victorious, I returned to Riverwood and gave the claw back to Valus. He rejoiced and placed the claw on the counter. Compared to the other wares he had laying out, the talisman looked surprisingly large. Furthermore, I was surprised that such a precious artifact was going to be left lying out with absolutely no protection other than the door and the siblings. No wonder it was stolen in the first place. I then sold all my unneeded things, although the list of stuff I was unwilling to sell was slowly growing larger.

Before I was to leave Riverwood, I wanted to finish the miscellaneous quest of delivering letters. I initially went back to the bard and told him of the elf’s treachery, similar to as I did before, but it started to get complicated, so I instead decided to go straight to the girl and confront her. I reloaded my entrance to the bar and discovered that the woman they were fighting was not the owner but Camilla, the shopkeeper’s sister. Nonetheless, I approached her by the fire and began to talk with her. After I got her off the subject of the claw that I recently returned, I gave her the elf’s letter telling her that elf wanted to deceive her. While the bard was the first one to lie his way into her heart, I ultimately sided with the bard. I was still partial to bards after my Oblivion character, and this is a relatively useless decision in the grand scheme of Skyrim. I spoke with the bard telling him that the elf would no longer be a problem and he offered to follow me as a fighting companion whenever I needed him. I was not in the mood to babysit another character, and besides, he was a lowly bard. The elf was also an archer who always carried his bow so he would have been more useful. I stayed by my decision, however, and never asked the bard to help me.

I made one trip back up the river before leaving Riverwood, this time in search of wolves. I planned on using their pelts to create my own set of leather armor. Before leaving, I set my player to chop wood while I ran to the porcelain throne. When I returned, he was already done and had only netted a total of six pieces of firewood. Any plans of leaving the game on overnight was just shattered, not that I cared. I left the town and while hiking I discovered that Skyrim is dotted with patches of rock containing raw ore, but one needed a pickaxe similar to cutting wood required a woodcutter’s axe. So I ran back to town and bought a pickaxe from Valus. Then I mined the ore which netted me two units of iron ore. The game stopped me once the ore was depleted, and the pickaxe proved to be worth its weight. I also discovered a hunter camping near the guardian stones I passed with Hadvar. I traded some with him before swimming across the river. I found a cabin belonging to Ansie, I believe. She was an old hooded woman dressed in robes and living in a house with half of the walls missing. She did not want to talk with me, so I left her that and went about my day. I found some glowing nirnroot and some wolves before returning. Like Oblivion, the nirnoot is a glowing blue plant that is found near water and makes a slight humming noise for the observant adventurer. Unlike Oblivion, Skyrim places no importance on nirnroot above it being an alchemical ingredient. Oblivion, on the other hand, forced me on a fetch quest to find a grand total of 100 nirnroot, and the plants do not replenish like other ingredients. I do not know if Skyrim nirnroot grows back, but I held onto the nirnroot just in case.

I returned to town, tanned the pelts, smelted my armor, and made them fine. With my new suit of leather armor, repaired ancient Nord sword, and enchanted hood that I found before the tutorial dungeon, I was ready to leave Riverwood. I spoke with the owner of the Sleeping Giant Inn again about a bed, but she looked at me like I was stupid and said I had already bought a bed for the day. Apparently, the 24 hours since I last purchased a room had not passed, so I returned to my cot and got another good night’s sleep. The next morning, I set my marker to Whiterun, a large city on an open plain that is on the northern end of the valley Riverwood is based in. Whiterun will be the first big city I visit in Skyrim and should be the next step in continuing the main quest. The jarl must be warned about the dragon attack, and I had already waste- I mean spent a few days in Riverwood giving the dragon plenty of time to attack the city.

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