Skyrim Modding for Beginners

You’ve decided to step into the vast world of Skyrim modding but have no idea where to even place your toe. Well, that’s a perfectly valid problem. But don’t fret. I’m here to offer some pointers on where to begin, what to look out for and to even suggest some awesome mods that will noticeably enhance your Skyrim experience right at the outset.

First thing you should do is head on over to these sites:

The Skyrim Total Enhancement Project (S.T.E.P.) guide will give you a good general tutorial on what modding is and the important things you need to know BEFORE getting started. Remember that just like any other piece of software, Skyrim can become broken (for a variety of reasons) and it’s a bitch to have to re-install it since its tied to Steam. So make sure you know the risks beforehand. We’ll come back to S.T.E.P. a bit later.

Second, you should go and suscribe to this man’s YouTube video blog:

Nobody breaks modding down to the lamen end user better than Gopher, and his Skyrim MOD Sanctuary has been going strong for nearly three years. Not only will you learn a lot about Skyrim modding in general, but you’ll get to see first hand some of the fantastic mods that are available, how they work and what they add to your game. Gopher also usually includes installation tutorials on the mods he reviews (which helps if you’re installing manually or using Nexus Mod Manager).

Another good place to check out is the following Nexus forums thread:

There are some relevant conversations there although the thread was started over a year ago. It helps to gain as broad of an understanding as you can about modding your Skyrim game BEFORE wandering aimlessly into the abyss (like I did).

Please go and check out the aforementioned links. Take the time to watch a couple of Gopher’s basic modding videos, and pay special attention to the STEP:Mandate. I’ve found that there are basically two types of modders: those who are only out to enhance the flavor of the vanilla game and those who are out to mix those flavors with whatever they find to their liking. S.T.E.P. was created for those who fall into the first camp; however, it also provides a stable jumping off point for those of us who aren’t afraid to experiment and really mix it up.

STEPThe next thing you need to understand is that there are two major sources for downloading mods for your game: Skyrim Nexus and Steam Workshop.

If you really want to take full advantage of the mods that are out there and are willing to spend some extra time learning the ropes, then Skyrim Nexus is definitely the way to go. Not only are there ten times as many mods available on the Nexus than anywhere else, but all of the top mod authors and dedicated modders around the world use the Nexus as their playground and information dump. ANYTHING you need to know about running and installing particular mods can be found on the Nexus, and there is no better place to troubleshoot (and you will have your share of problems) than on the Nexus Forums and author pages. There is no censorship on the Nexus, so that already opens the door to hundreds of mods that you won’t find on Steam Workshop. The Nexus also has no size limits on the mods (Steam does), so some of the larger add-on or quest mods like Falskaar are only available on the Nexus. The Nexus uses its own mod manager that is somewhat integrated (depending on the mod author’s preference). The Nexus Mod Manager allows you to install, uninstall, categorize and organize all of your mods in one place. It also gives you the OPTION to update a mod, but doesn’t require the updates.

Then there’s Steam Workshop. I must admit that the Workshop has gotten better over the past year, and several mod authors that have proven their metal on the Nexus have ported some of their top mods to the Workshop. For the mods that are available on Steam, the modding process is much simpler and doesn’t require a lot of extra effort on your part. Steam’s simple mod manager is integrated, and each mod that you download requires a subscription (always free). You simply subscribe to a mod with the click of a button, and each time you run your Skyrim launcher, you will be able to choose whether or not you want to run the selected mods (you can choose to run Skyrim without any mods). There are two HUGE drawbacks with using Steam, however. The first is that any updates to the mods will install automatically at the launcher. That may sound like a nice convenience, but when it comes to modding, that SUCKS. Updates are usually the first thing that will render your mods as incompatible with one another. As we all know, Steam is already update happy, so it can be really frustrating when you have to wait five minutes (or longer) before every other play session for the automatic updates to run their course, some of which will almost assuredly break your game if you’re running any scripted mods (I’ll get into that later). The second problem with the Workshop as already mentioned above is that there is a size limit on the mods that can be posted. Some of the best and most complex mods created for Skyrim are quite large and thus not available on Steam Workshop. The SKSE scripting mod is also not available, so that’s yet another world of awesome and powerful mods whose door is shut to the Workshop.

With all of that said, the best place to start is S.T.E.P. The good people at S.T.E.P. will recommend that you use a third mod manager called MOD Organizer (MO). MO is by far the best mod manager, and I recommend that you follow the description link from the wiki to read why it’s the best. It does have a bit of a learning curve as compared to the Nexus Mod Manager, but it will save you hours of heartache in the long run by keeping your modding directory trees entirely separate from your main Skyrim folders. So if you ever need to revert back to pristine vanilla Skyrim, MO makes it easy. Also, MO allows you to store different mod profiles, and you’ll see the advantage to that once you become a bit more advanced with the modding experience.

Now you’re ready to start modding. The first thing you want to do is to layout a foundation for your modding, which S.T.E.P. refers to as the STEP:Core. Starting at the top of the 2.2.8 tutorial, you’ll download several software packages which you will then set up through MO. (NOTE: Although I agree with S.T.E.P. on a number of mods, there are some that I absolutely DO NOT agree with. However, if you choose to put all your trust into S.T.E.P., then you must download and install ALL of their recommended CORE mods and follow ALL of their instructions to the tee.) You will then proceed to download and install roughly 180 mods from the Nexus. You’ll need to go through ALL of them, one at a time. This may not sound like it would take that long, but it actually takes FOREVER. So make sure that you reserve at least a day or a day and half to create your working STEP:Core profile. You may also choose the “Extended” profle mods as you progress down the charts if you think you have a system that can handle it (S.T.E.P. gives you the recommended system specs at the beginning of the tutorial).

I can tell you right now that “Fores New Idles in Skyrim” (FNIS) is a horrible mod to deal with, and if you follow all of S.T.E.P., not only will you be installing it but there are at least five other mods that are entirely dependent upon it. One of them, “Dual Sheath Redux,” is pretty cool, but it’s incredibly difficult to get it to work flawlessly AND I guarantee you it will break your game later on. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Either way, STEP:Core/Extended is a great start because the majority of the mods are essential. So even though you’re downloading a lot of data, it’s mainly 1-2k graphic replacement data that is not going to be running a lot of background scripts in your Core experience game. Script-based mods are like tiny little programs in and of themselves that are always running in the background, and some of them can cause major compatibility issues with other mods or simply screw up your game for myriad other reasons. That is not to say that you shouldn’t run script-based mods. Some of the best mods out there are script-based, including the SKSE-based mods that allow all of the great user interfacing with the Mod Configuration Menus (MCM – most SKSE-based mods now integrate a UI menu which allows the user to configure aspects of the mod in-game). However, you should be wary of “script-heavy” mod profiles as they can cause a host of issues with saved Skyrim games later on.

That said, you also don’t want to go too crazy with the hi-res texture and mesh replacer mods as many of them give you the option to go big. Unless you’re running a very high-end rig, I would stick to 512×512 and 1024×1024 textures for the most part (1k-2k). Remember that Skyrim is a big place, so when you replace one texture in hi-res you’re really replacing hundreds or thousands of textures that could really eat up your VRAM and affect performance.Skyrim_27

If you decide to go through the whole list and follow ALL of their instructions, you will need to go to the S.T.E.P. Nexus page to download and install the patches. These patches, provided you didn’t skip any mods, will allow your Core mod set to better detect and work with one another once they are in their proper load orders. I believe that you are instructed to run BOSS before you install the patches. BOSS will automatically arrange your mods in proper load order (for the most part). You will then also have an opportunity to clean some of the dirty files with another program called TES5Edit (refer to S.T.E.P.)

I give the team behind S.T.E.P. high praise for what they’ve accomplished. It also happens to be an ongoing project that receives constant updates according to what’s new on the Nexus, so the STEP:Core tutorial is usually pretty up-to-date.

In addition to the ones that made their list that I don’t agree with, however, there are some other mods that I am quite surprised have not been adopted as part of the STEP:Core/Expanded package. I will list those here, and I HIGHLY recommend that you install them as either part of the Core/Expanded profile or most definitely as part of a custom pack profile.

1) Immersive Armors by Hothtrooper

If you’re at all a fan of variety, then this mod is a MUST. It ads over 50 new sets of completely lore-friendly craftable armor to Skyrim! The armors are all based directly off of the vanilla armor sets and compliment AMidianBorn’s Book of Silence textures quite nicely. W.T.F, S.T.E.P.?

2) Immersive Weapons by Hothtrooper

Go Hothtrooper! Same as above, except adds tons of new weapons.

3) Player Headtracking by Maegfaer

This one might not seem so obvious, but once you install it, you’ll never be able to play Skyrim again without it. It’s so simple yet SO immersive. Basically, the Dragonborn (in third person) will always turn his or her head in the direction of whoever or whatever has his or her attention, whether a talking NPC, a corpse on the ground or a dog walking by. The mod is SKSE compatible and has full MCM integration so that you can control how sensitive you want the headtracking to be. It really makes a HUGE difference.

4) Cloaks of Skyrim by Noodles

Just like Immersive Armors, it’s completely lore-friendly. Add some variety to your life, Dragonborn, and accessorize!

5) Nerevars – Cloaks of Skyrim Ultra HD v2 by tesmorrow

Then go and install some HD replacer textures for your cloaks! You can thank me later.

Finally, I should address the question that’s always on a lot of players’ minds who are eager to mod: What about the “nude” and “sex” mods?

Yes, there are quite a few of those kinds of mods if you sign in as an adult on the Nexus. Personally, I think the sex mods are a joke, and are not really meant to be part of any Skyrim game that you plan on putting a lot of time into. Sex mods are meant to be novelties, and they are usually heavily scripted and not very compatible with working mod sets. So if you have to, install one, get it out of your system, and then move on. Or save yourself the trouble and go watch any number of Skyrim sex-themed YouTube videos.

Some of the male and female mesh and texture replacers, on the other hand, are actually very good and quite compatible with many mods. I still think some of them are a bit ridiculous for the Skyrim world, but to each their own. The three most popular are: CBBE, UNP and Nude Females. I’m not a fan of CBBE which basically just makes your Skyrim women look like buxom Japanese anime dolls. Nude Females is sort of silly because all it really does is allows for a woman’s private parts to be exposed while maintaining the vanilla textures (which looks plain bad). Of course, there are male mesh and texture replacers that are similar. My favorite, and the one that I currently use, is the Dimonized UNP Female Body. Using the athletic settings and coupled with the Mature Skin Texture (separate mod), my female characters look like toned, ass-kicking warriors (NOT super models or porn queens). You may not even want to venture into this territory, but if the vanilla character meshes and textures just don’t do it for you, know that there are some nice options available that you can mess around with to find the right “look.”

So there you have it. I’ve been meaning to write this post for the last year, and I apologize that it’s taken me so long to get around to it. If you have any questions about modding as you go along, please don’t be shy and give me a shout. I’ll do my best to answer them or at least point you in the right direction.

And here’s to finding a stable and lasting mod set!

Cheers, Jeff

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Posted by on March 20, 2014 in Uncategorized


Skyrim Strategy Journal: FAQ

Here are some frequently asked questions I often see around the message boards that I will provide here along with my own hard-earned answers:
1) There are some enchantments I can’t learn because I can’t seem to find the items necessary for disenchanting. Any ideas where I can find some of these more elusive enchanted items?
The best advice here is to explore, explore, explore (at least 75% of enchantments can be found on generic items in random loot spread across Skyrim). However, it’s true that many of the more common enchanted items found in the game also happen to be “named” items and, thus, cannot be disenchanted (e.g., you can’t disenchant an Amulet of Zenithar to learn Fortify Haggle).
Nevertheless, in my sweeping explorations I have found a place where you can find a couple of the more elusive generic enchanted items ripe for disenchanting. Visit the Radiant Raiment in Solitude (who would’ve guessed?) The two snobbish sisters that run the place usually have at any given time at least one of two VERY rare generic enchanted necklaces for sale: a Necklace of Minor Haggling or a Necklace of Remedy. Chances are you will not find these in loot, and either of them are definitely worth their asking prices of near two thousand septims each. The first carries Fortify Haggling and the second Fortify Healing Rate.

The Muffle and Water Breathing enchantments are also particularly hard to find. The latter can sometimes be found on a helmet for sale by the blacksmith in Riverwood (forget his name at the moment). I’ve also heard that a helmet of water breathing can be one of the items to loot from the skeleton at Cradlecrush Rock. The Muffle enchantment can only be learned from radomly generated items for sale by seemingly random merchants, including Radiant Raiment. Otherwise, you won’t find these enchantments on generic loot.
This link has a pretty comprehensive table of all the enchanment modifiers in the game and their corresponding item terminology:
2) Where do I find gold ore, gold ingots and flawless diamonds?
The best place in the game to mine gold ore is Kolskeggr Mine in The Reach, just east of Markarth. You’ll have to clear out some Foresworn, but it’s well worth your trouble. If you hit every vein, you’ll make out with about 46 chunks of gold ore (not to mention some precious gems… usually a couple emeralds and/or sapphires). There’s also a flawless sapphire on one of the bookcases in the main chamber (with all of the scaffolding) as well as a few gold ingots hidden in a darkened wagon. When you exit, be sure to use the conveniently located smelter to turn those nuggets into ingots.
In general, the next best place to find gold ore and ingots just laying around are in any of the Dwemer ruins/cities. However, the single best place in the game to find a rather large cache of gold ingots (like eight of them) is Forsaken Cave, a Nordic ruin located in the Pale. You’ll find the bulk of them in a large pot sitting on a table in the catacombs (make sure to jump onto the table and look down into the pot or you can easily miss them). The alternate and far easier method to obtain gold ore is to simply use the Transmute Mineral Ore Alteration spell on silver ore. For a small price, the spell can either change iron ore to silver ore and/or silver ore to gold ore. You can find the spell tome in the Nordic tomb of Ansilvund.
So far, there are only two places in the game where I have found a flawless diamond. The first is a secret area at the far end of Stony Creek Cave in Eastmarch. If you can somehow make your way to the top of the waterfall at the final chamber (use perfectly timed jumps OR your Whirlwind sprint from a high enough section of wall), you will reach a secret tunnel that will access the back end of the Dwemer ruin of Kagrenzel. The flawless diamond sits atop a darkly lit archway (you’ll probably need a torch to see it). Just as with the waterfall, you’ll have to enage in some fancy maneuvering to get to it (I found that switching to third-person helped with this one).
The other flawless diamond is a little trickier to spot. It’s underwater next to an abandoned boat north of Reachwater Rock in the river. The boat has a strong box in it (so you’ll know when you find it). Once on the boat, look West and then dive in the water. The flawless diamond is covered by a few empty mead bottles. You’ll also find a sunken chest and a couple sunken mead barrels.
Also, if you’re able to complete the rather involved quest, No Stone Unturned, the Prowler’s Profit reward/perk will allow you to start finding flawless diamonds as random loot.
3) Who are the best followers?
The answer to this question will depend largely on your own character type as well as the sort of adventuring you will be engaged in. Remember that followers will usually not die in combat with other NPCs unless they are poisoned or fall into some sort of trap (like a Flame Atronach blowing up or something). In fact, YOU will be the most likely cause of your own follower’s death! For example, if you and your follower are both in a melee clash with multiple opponents, your follower may drop to their knees (which will yield NPC attackers) only to have you accidentally blindside them with an errant blow from your warhammer. This is why I prefer using my followers as long- to mid-range backup. Also, unlike your follower, you will be much more likely to hit them if you’re the one providing the covering fire (whereas the follower won’t miss). I’ll admit I haven’t yet utilized every follower. But I have employed about half of them, and I can tell you with confidence which ones won’t disappoint.
Aranea is awesome and compatible with just about any character type. She’s a favor follower and can be found at the Shrine of Azura (you’ll have to complete Azura’s quest and obtain Azura’s Star, NOT the Black Star, to gain Aranea’s favor). A strong Dark Elf, Aranea is primarily a destruction mage. She’s very aggressive and will willingly dual-wield staffs if you equip her, which also ensures she stays at mid-range in combat. She’ll also heal herself regularly (in fact, she doesn’t like it when you try to heal her) and has some of the surest feet in the game (she will almost never trigger pressure plates and is very adept at staying on the path you layout for her). The only downside to using Aranea is that you can’t marry her, which is always advantageous with a follower because his or her shop will always earn you extra money (even if they’re not running it). But other than that, she’s awesome. Out of my five campaigns, two of my characters now use Aranea as their trusted follower.
Jenassa, another tough-as-nails Dark Elf, sells her services as a mercenary and can be found at the Drunken Huntsman in Whiterun. You can hire her for 500 gold. That may sound steep, but she’s worth every Septim. Obviously, if you marry her, you won’t have to worry about paying her fee again in case you get split up. Jenassa has the best stealth stats out of any other follower, so all you thieves or assassins out there are foolish not to have her at your back. She’s also a proficient archer, and is one of the only followers that can make effective use of dual melee weapons (like two swords or daggers). If you’re going to use her as a melee combatant, however, I would advise you equip her with some high rated light armor, preferably enchanted. I was having a lot of trouble with her dying on me when facing Falmers (because of their damn poison attacks), so I countered the situation by giving her the poison resistant Dark Brotherhood armor. Then she was practically unstoppable.
Not surprisingly, the instant classic Skyrim NPC, Aela the Huntress, makes a fantastic follower. However, to gain her favor, you’ll have to complete the Companions quest line which will keep you busy for a while (so until she’s available, use Aranea or Jenassa ;-). As her name suggests, Aela has maxed out stats in Archery (and also happens to be a Master Trainer). So use her as an archer! She makes an unbelievable combat companion when it comes to providing ranged cover fire. Give her a powerful bow and some decent arrows, and she’ll practically take down dragons herself. You’ll also watch enemies fall before you even have a chance to touch them. Marry that woman!
Mjoll the Lioness. Not only is she one of the heaviest tanks in the game, she can also be utilized as an effective ranged attacker with her decent archery stat. Also, like Aranea, she’ll kick serious ass with dual staffs equipped. But the biggest plus with Mjoll is that she CANNOT die. She’s the only follower to my knowledge that’s considered an “essential” NPC and, therefore, cannot be killed. Mjoll would be my first choice for a follower but for a couple drawbacks. First of all, she seems to be incredibly difficult to gain favor with. Out of my five characters, I was only able to petition the favor quest out of her with one. It seems that if you’re a member of either the Thieves Guild or the Dark Brotherhood (or maybe both?) she will not offer you the quest to retrieve her sword. She lets you know her disdain for the Thieves Guild in your first dialogue with her, so it probably has more to do with that. Well, four of my five characters happen to be charter members! 😉 The other thing (really more of an annoyance than a drawback) is that Mjoll has a follower of her own, a useless runt named Aerin. He’s not an issue outside of towns, as he ceases to follow Mjoll when she is following you, but every now and then he’ll pop up when you’re in a city and start conversing with Mjoll, even when she’s still in your service. I don’t know if this is a glitch or what, but it happened to me a few times and it reminded me too much of that little bastard from Oblivion (you know, the little fan you acquired from the Arena who randomly appeared like Santa’s Little Helper with a torch?) I’ve heard, however, that if Mjoll joins the Blades with you, Aerin WILL follow and there’ll be a good chance he is killed by a dragon. Problem solved!
As far as followers I didn’t like, here would be a few to steer clear of: Cicero (for no other reason than he’s incredibly annoying), Anneke Cragg-Jumper (her stealth sucks and she’ll trigger every trap in a room… even finding a few new ones), and Marcurio (I know others would disagree with me because he’s such a powerful mage, but he’ll go down in an instant if any enemies get past his initial barrage, half the time dying from poison or explosions).
4) What’s the best way to make lots of gold fast?
If I knew that, I wouldn’t be writing this blog! 😉 I actually spent a little time addressing this in a previous post. Obviously, there are tons of ways to get fat stacks of septims in Skyrim. Forging, enchanting and selling your own expensive jewelry is something you can start doing immediately, and at the same time you’ll be quickly leveling three different skills. But perhaps the best way to get gold in Skyrim is so obvious that it’s NOT so obvious: choose your race as an Imperial! As an Imperial, you will find and make TWICE as much gold as you would with any other race at any given time. It’s that simple. Out of my five characters, only one is an Imperial. And guess what? She’s the RICH one!
5) What are the best Dragon Shouts to fully learn and invest my dragon souls?
To be honest, the best and most useful Shouts in the game are mainly the ones you procure during the Main Quest. For example, the first part of Whirlwind Sprint is the second Shout the Dragonborn learns and it’s just as useful at Level 10 as it is at Level 30. Dragonrend is incredibly useful (also learned during the Main Quest). And the Call Dragon Shout (all parts learned during The Fallen) is about as cool as it gets. As far as other Shouts that I’ve found very useful on more than one occasion: Animal Allegiance and Slow Time. The former is very useful for low- to mid-level stealth-based characters who get into trouble in the wilds (it can be hard for a rogue/archer to take down two cave bears and a sabertoothe) while the latter can help in complex room puzzles and grandscale combat scenarios. Storm Call is a very powerful Shout, but it also has a tendency to kill followers.

Posted by on March 10, 2012 in Skyrim, Strategy


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Skyrim Strategy Journal: Choosing Perks

Investing in Speech is investing in your future.

I’m finding that leveling and choosing perks in Skyrim becomes more and more of a crapshoot as my characters progress. What I mean is some perks that you relegate to low priority suddenly can become high priority with a single level-up. Starting out, it’s relatively easy to decide on perks if you have any sort of a game plan (i.e., you know who you are and what you’re doing). But as you progress, even the perks within your specialty become increasingly specialized, to the point where perks in other skill sets start to seem more enticing. For example, after about level 15 for all my characters (Barbarian, Necromancer, Battle Mage and Rogue), I wasn’t going to reach any more of the perks in my primary skill-sets any time soon, so I started looking at other perks in other skill sets during the interim. Surprisingly, I started investing perks in skill sets that I had no prior intention of exploring such as Speech and Enchanting. Selling things is a big part of my money machine in all of my campaigns, so why not invest in perks that are going to increase my profits? So, for example, there is almost no reason for ANY character-type to not invest in a few levels of the Haggling perk in Speech, increasing the gold you receive from every sale by 10-20%. On top of that, I’ve also made good use of the Allure perk, which gives you an additional 10% on sales with merchants of the opposite sex. That extra gold adds up, and could make a big difference in buying master training lessons at the higher levels (when they’re over 2,000 gold per lesson!)

Then there’s the case of simply finding a particular specialization that you grow to like better within the same skill set. For example, my Necromancer had a pretty straight-forward connect-the-dots through her Conjuration skill tree, focusing on all of the necromancer-specific perks. However, I soon found that zombies are not near as effective as atronachs in most situations, and the damn things disintegrate to ash half the time you enter new areas (Quick note: Dremora Lords are actually the best allies you can conjure because they’re super strong and cannot be turned by Dragon Priests!) Raising zombies is also much more cumbersome than simply conjuring an atronach, especially in the midst of a battle. So my Necromancer started to become more of an Atromancer, and I had to adjust my perks accordingly, at least as far as prioritizing them (I still plan on having ALL of the perks in Conjuration by a level 100 skill).

I mentioned the Enchanting skill set earlier. I’m the type of Elder Scrolls player that doesn’t like to equip anything on my character that doesn’t have some sort of enchantment. Any weapon or item of clothing/armor that does not have a magical property is a WASTE as far as I’m concerned, and sometimes you run across that perfect combo of attire for your character but cannot find the magical equivalent of a certain piece. So to solve this pesky problem, enchant your own shit! I purposely veered away from this skill at first because of how complex and confusing it was in Oblivion. Well I’m happy to report that Enchanting in Skyrim is a breeze! I won’t get into a tutorial of how it’s done here (just activate an enchanting altar and the whole business will take you about two minutes to figure out), but Enchanting is another great skill to invest some perks into and it seems to level up quicker than most other skills, even at the adept stages.

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Posted by on January 27, 2012 in Skyrim, Strategy


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Skyrim Strategy Journal: The Companions

She'll put one through your heart.

With my Barbarian Nord, I completed the primary quest line for the Companions (still need to complete a couple radiant quests). Whiterun, centrally located in Skyrim, definitely provides the best base of operations for any warrior-like character, and it’s certainly no coincidence the first several missions in the Main Quest are focused around Whiterun and the Dragon Reach. I ignored the Main Quest altogether until I became the new Harbinger of the Companions. Then, with the awesome Aela at my side, I continued into the first leg of the Main Quest.

Note: Until you complete the “Dragon Rising” chapter of the Main Quest, you will NOT run into any dragons in Skyrim! It’s true. So you can run around the entire map while persistently leveling up your character, and you won’t have to worry about those ominous wings flapping overhead. That may take some of the fun out of it for a lot of adventurers, but personally, I don’t think any of my own characters would be taking on dragons until they were seasoned in their particular combat focuses. And since most of the beasts in Elder Scrolls games level up along with you, using this strategy is not exactly tipping the scales either way. It just sort of ensures you’re not dragon meat before reaching Level 5. At Level 17, my Barbarian was ready to take on dragons. She still might get flame broiled, but she would always have a fighting chance (and Aela at her side even gave her the slight advantage).

Like the others in the elite Circle of the Companions, my Nord partook in the sacred ritual to become a werewolf. Prior to her joining the Companions, she completed the Daedric Quest “Ill Met By Moonlight” to acquire the Ring of Hircine (make sure to get the ring BEFORE you contract lycanthropy). When worn, this artifact allows an additional werewolf transformation per day. However, there’s a loophole here to be easily exploited: after each transformation back into a human, you have to re-equip all of your items, including the ring. Each time you take the ring on and off of your finger, the daily power resets itself. So in essence, with the ring you can transform into a werewolf as many times as you want! Being a werewolf works great against single tough foes, but the disadvantage is that you can get teamed up on really fast when taking on groups. This can be particularly bad if you’re in a tight space (best to use your lycanthropy for outdoor battles) because it’s harder to un-group your enemies and to escape intense melee situations. Werewolf mode is always played in third-person, so it takes a little adjusting if you’re used to fighting in first-person. But if you have the space, you can launch vicious attacks and then quickly retreat using a quadrupedal sprint. This makes lumbering targets like Giants a breeze. Dragons are also in trouble when they bring the fight to the ground, although I usually found myself transforming back to human in the middle of a skirmish (annoying and potentially lethal). Also, remember that as a werewolf your health does NOT regenerate over time. This is another reason why you want to use fast and calculated strikes on your prey.

A great moment with the Companions takes place during the outset of the final mission in the quest line wherein you have to travel to Ysgramor’s Tomb in the farthest reaches of the north. The three toughest Companions–Aela, Farkas and Vilkas–all accompany you on this one, and you may choose to embark on a cross-country run with them from Whiterun all the way to the Tomb (half the map of Skyrim). They are in attack mode the whole time, so ANY enemies encountered during the journey are dispatched with extreme prejudice. My character being an equal badass, for the first time ever I felt like I was completely untouchable in an Elder Scrolls game! (There were some similar scenarios in Oblivion, but never where you had the company of three of the most powerful warriors in the game). Seriously, we could have taken on multiple Giants AND their Mammoth herd.

One of the things I wanted to be able to do before reaching Level 20 was to improve my magical weapons and items. To do this in Skyrim, you need the Arcane Blacksmith perk which is not available until a Smithing level of 60. So on top of my own leveling by smelting, smithing and improving weapons, armor and jewelry, I also tried to afford as many training sessions as possible with the Master Blacksmith of the Companions, Eorlund Gray-Mane. Like any master training, you can purchase up to five sessions per level. Each session raises that particular skill level by one. This can get expensive (especially at the higher levels), so make sure you have a money machine to keep the gold flowing (smithing, selling, exploring, etc.) To me it’s worth it because it saves a ton of time otherwise spent simply grinding out the levels on my own.

As mentioned earlier, I chose Aela the Huntress (Master Archer) to be my Skyrim sister-in-arms for my Barbarian campaign. If you’re a melee-based character, Aela is actually the perfect choice because she will provide ranged cover while you’re mincing meat. I use my own bow quite a bit, too (for a stealthy approach in many situations), so it’s nice to have master training in archery at my beck and call when I want to invest in some leveling. You can always use your companions as pack mules and/or upgrade their weapons and armor. I immediately replaced her hunting bow with a superior forged Dwarven bow and her iron dagger with a Skyforged war axe. I also gave her some better bracers and boots, although she probably didn’t need them considering her Light Armor stat was at 100. When using your companion as a pack mule, be careful. Not only can your companion go down in a fight, but there are random bugs in the game that may make the body disappear. This happened to my friend who had his companion carrying every last one of his hard-earned dragon bones and dragon scales. Because of that bug, he lost ALL of them. My advice is only to use your companion to carry important things when you are ready to fast travel back to a town or safe haven. If you have a home, all of your expensive items not being used should be kept in a chest or the like (as soon as you’re appointed Thane of Whiterun by the Jarl after completing “Dragon Rising”, you’re eligible to buy a house in that city).

When starting the line of Companions quests, there is a particular mission that proved pretty tough for my character (who at the time I believe was around Level 8). The quest “Proving Honor” sends you on an errand to retrieve an Orcish heirloom from a random location. I was not able to fast travel even close to that location, so I had to foot it most of the way. During the journey, I noticed I ran into three times as many enemies (some of them several levels above my own) as usual. After dying A LOT, I finally had to just make a run for it from a trio of high-level necromancers. Once to my destination, I proceeded into a cavern infested with Falmers (horrible creatures of the dark that drop down on you from above). These things were tough and once again after dying way too many times, I was finally able to get to the chest with the dagger at the end of the cavern. As it turned out, that was the whole point of the quest–basically determining if you could survive such a dangerous living obstacle course! I love little surprises like that when playing The Elder Scrolls 🙂

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Posted by on January 9, 2012 in Skyrim


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Skyrim: Quick Character Example (Starting Out)

Yesterday, a blogger friend of mine challenged me to give an example of how I started one of my own campaigns on Skyrim. Okay… I’ll try to make this quick.

Should be an early stop for most adventurers.

I usually have three to four campaigns going at any given time to keep things interesting. Currently, I have a Barbarian, a Necromancer, a Spellsword/Battle Mage, and a very stealthy Rogue. Except for the Necromancer and Spellsword, they all couldn’t be more different. I pretty much just started the campaigns for all four (as I received the game over Christmas). Guess what I did before I even inserted the disc? I purchased the hardback special edition strategy guide off Amazon for less than $20 (major bargain).

Anyway, the last campaign I started was with my Necromancer, so I’ll use her as the example. She’s all about magic (obviously), and eventually she’ll be raising lots of dead things 😉 Since she’s a Breton and not a High Elf, it’s important that I raise her total magicka as quick as possible (only High Elves have the comfort of possessing a huge amount of magicka at the outset). Her skill focus is almost entirely on Conjuration magic with secondary focus given to Restoration, Destruction and a wee bit of Alteration. As soon as I stepped out of the underground tunnel leading to the outside with that hulking Nord, I already had four missions in mind: seek out a blessing, obtain Azura’s Star, join the College of Winterhold, and finagle my way into the Dark Brotherhood (in that order). First, I hit the cluster of Standing Stones just off the road while heading to Riverwood. I chose the blessing of the Mage Stone, which allowed me to immediately begin increasing my magic-oriented attributes at 20% faster than the normal rate. Advanced players might argue that I should have taken the Warrior Stone’s blessing–the logic there being that since I would be constantly using magic, the 20% increase would better supplement my non-magical attributes to offset the fact that I’m using magic all of the time and leveling those skills quickly regardless. However, since my Necromancer is a purist, she will probably never wield a sword or even a dagger unless she absolutely has to. So my counter-logic would argue that taking anything but the Mage Stone would be throwing my blessing out the window (in this case, anyway). Later in the campaign, I’ll probably switch my blessing to the Ritual Stone. Next, I headed straight for the Shrine of Azura. Since I had the strategy guide’s map, I didn’t need any in-game help to clue me in as to the shrine’s whereabouts. Not only would completing this Daedric Quest get me Azura’s Star (no, I didn’t want the Black Star and I won’t get into why), but it would ALSO get me my first companion, the deadly Aranea. Kill two birds, I say. Since I was playing a pure magic user, having a companion was not only desirable, it was downright necessary. Aranea also was a magic user (mainly conjuration and destruction), and she would be used to both distract and to double-team opponents. Unless you’re playing a character with heavy armor, you should seriously consider a quest companion as soon as possible. Otherwise, you better save your game often. Mission three was to head north to Winterhold. I did so, easily dispatching anything in my path with my new sister-in-arms. Note that my mission here was only to gain access to the College, not necessarily to play through the whole line of quests. By simply joining, I suddenly had an entire stronghold and almost everything within at my disposal. The same would be said for my fourth mission, seeking out the Dark Brotherhood. My Necromancer happened to have an evil streak (well… she IS a Necromancer), so the Dark Brotherhood was an appropriate choice thematically. But even if your character is a goodie-two-shoes, don’t rule out this powerful faction. The best horse of the game, Shadowmere, can be procured through them (as far as I’m concerned, Shadowmere is the ONLY horse in the game). Add to that yet another sweet base of operations with tons of fringe benefits.

So there you have it. And I believe my fledgling Necromancer accomplished all of that (and more) in less than five hours of gameplay.

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Posted by on January 6, 2012 in Skyrim, Strategy


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Skyrim for Beginners

I’m changing it up this post to expound upon quite possibly the sweetest game I’ve ever played, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. This blog, of course, is dedicated to the other great video game franchise of Bethesda, and the only irony in this one-time departure is the fact that Skyrim sets the pace for what we can expect down the road from a Fallout 4.

No more excuses.

My previous blog lingered on the IGN network for about three years, and it was dedicated to The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Since I had more time to maintain that one, I actually had some dedicated followers. My final post (the blog since dismantled) was entitled, “Some Parting Words as I Ascend from Oblivion.” It was a rather long article that summed up my 100+ hour experience with Oblivion and included some useful advice for anybody just stepping into the realm of Tamriel.

Now, what’s great about an open-world RPG is that by default, one really doesn’t NEED any advice on how to play it. For a lot of gamers, that’s precisely the fun of it. A game such as Skyrim has the built-in luxury of allowing a player to be somewhat, if not entirely, aimless. I both understand and respect that choice. In my own structured life, I often times revel at the chance to break free from any and all structure. It’s primal. It’s exciting, but at the same time relaxing because it’s not the type of exciting that stresses me out. Quite the contrary, it loosens me up. Even after knowing this, however, I still get a bit agitated when a friend or a fellow blogger usually new to open-world RPGs tells me he or she is simply wandering around not knowing what the hell he or she is doing. So, yes, I am a total hypocrite, and once again I am going to impart advice on what I think you SHOULD do. I’ve numbered (structured) them in order of importance (more structure):

1.  When starting Skyrim, it helps to have an idea as to what sort of character you will be playing. Sometimes this can be a direct reflection of yourself, and sometimes it may be the polar opposite. Do you want to bash in heads with a giant two-handed maul (hammer, for those not as dorky as I) or do you want to persuade others to do your bidding with your elegant charm and infectious charisma? Do you want to look at the chiseled back of a man or the sculpted figure of a woman for hours on end? (I usually play in first-person but often switch to third to get cinematic views of my fucking awesome character.) Do you live for the adventure and the action or do you rejoice in the crafting, toiling and scrutinizing of everyday life? If the former, then for the sake of the Daedras you need to be some sort of warrior, man! If the latter, then invest in your abilities accordingly. Either way, just know that if you’re going to play the Main Quest starting out, you’ll need to have a character that can kick some ass. Whether you’re stealthy, using magic, or wielding a giant two-handed maul (hammer), you’re still going to have to engage loads of tough opponents in myriad intense battles. On the other hand, if you plan on NEVER following the exploits of the Main Quest (nor any other predefined quest for that matter), then by all means spend your time chopping wood, sampling ingredients, mixing potions and selling your wares within the protected confines of your favorite village.

2.  Get yourself the blessing of a Standing Stone. Now that you know who and what you are, take advantage of the first HUGE freebie in Skyrim: a blessing from one of the 13 Standing Stones. These will allow you to level much faster the attributes you need for your character-type. I have a friend who played for days without even knowing that these things existed, AND he even had the strategy guide! Which leads me to…

3.  Get the strategy guide! Have no idea what the Standing Stones are or where you can find them? The easy-to-use Prima Strategy Guide for Skyrim cites them on page 59 (of a 600+ page guide). And if you are new to the Elder Scrolls, it would behoove you to read (or certainly skim) the first 75 pages. Do that and you’ll be one up on 90% of the people who play this game (no shit). The hardback also happens to make a great coffee table book.

4.  Align yourself with some factions. Seriously, the first three are no-brainers, but this one is for beginner and intermediate players alike. Just as there were in Oblivion, there are four major factions in Skyrim (they’re just not all referred to as “guilds” as they were previous): the College of Winterhold, the Thieves Guild, the Dark Brotherhood, and the Companions (of Whiterun). As their names suggest, each faction focuses its benefits on a particular character type. There are also smaller factions, but these four offer their own complete (and mostly unique) quest lines. Not only do these quest lines provide your character with some of the best items in the game, but they also offer allies (that will travel with you and fight by your side, usually one at a time), safe houses, shared work areas (e.g., blacksmiths, tanning racks, alchemy labs), and easy access to master trainers (to help you level faster in particular areas). Furthermore, any one of these quest lines will ensure that you traverse almost every region of Skyrim, making it easier to get around (i.e., fast travel) to places offered by other quest lines later in your adventure. Suffice to say, you’re doing yourself a huge disfavor if you don’t at least join one of the four major factions during your campaign.

5.  Establish a money machine early on and spend wisely. Oblivion made the money machine easy in the form of earning shitloads of gold in the Imperial City’s gladiator arena. Skyrim has no such thing as far as I know, so earning lots of money fast isn’t quite as easy. One thing you can do is always keep an eye out for extra expensive weapons and armor in your exploring. Even though you’ll only get half their worth when you sell them to merchants early in the game, the valuable ones will add up fast. You can also use your Smithing skill to ameliorate the weapons and armor you find (e.g., turn a steel warhammer into a fine steel warhammer to increase its value). For some real money, enchant your wares. Two of the best enchantments to learn as soon as you can are Banish Daedra and Sneak. Apply the former to weapons and the latter to armor or jewelry, and you’ll have some very valuable items to sell. Precious stones are found all over the place. Provided you have the silver and/or gold ingots to go with them, you can forge some pretty valuable necklaces and rings right from the start. I forged a gold diamond necklace with the Sneak enchantment before even reaching level 25 in Smithing that was worth nearly 2,000 gold pieces. Finally, marrying your companion is another great way to have an ongoing money machine. He or she will automatically open a store from which you will always receive half the profits (you just have to ask).

As for spending your hard-earned gold, remember that most of the items you can find for sale at a merchant you can also find for free in your adventuring. Yes, most merchants have one or two unique items (some of which are pretty cool), but even those usually have their swag-up-for-grabs equivalents scattered throughout Skyrim’s caves, dungeons and keeps. There’s nothing more frustrating than paying 2,000 gold pieces for an enchanted robe of conjuration that you end up finding an hour later in some necromancer lair.

6.  Don’t forget about the Daedric Quests. One of the biggest mistakes I made while playing Oblivion was relegating the Daedric Quests to some of the last ones I completed. Not only were they incredibly fun and interesting, but they offered some of the most powerful (and unique) items in the game: the Daedric Artifacts. These are back in Skyrim, albeit they are a little less game-changing as they were in Oblivion. However, a few of them still retain their invalue. If you’re playing any kind of a character with magic focus, you’d be a fool not to head straight to the Shrine of Azura (no pre-requisites for this one). Appease the bitch goddess and you’ll receive Azura’s Star (or you can choose the more sinister Black Star). With Azura’s Star, you’ll never need another soul gem again when it comes to re-charging your enchanted weapons. Without getting into a whole tutorial on soul gems, what they do, and how to use them, just trust me that Azura’s Star is PRICELESS. Go get yours today.

There’s more I’d like to spew all over you beginners out there, but I think I’m done typing for now. So when you’re done running around Skyrim aimlessly like a spriggan with its ass on fire, remember the six points of enlightenment I have bestowed upon you. Use them well.


Posted by on January 5, 2012 in Skyrim, Strategy


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The House Just LOST (strategy)

Never judge a book...

One of the coolest things about New Vegas is the variety of factions in which you can place your allegiances. You can become anything from a lawless Powder Ganger to an upright soldier of the NCR, all the while fleecing every other faction in-between. You can only play Yojimbo for so long, however, and eventually you WILL have to start making permanent enemies.

My main allegiance was quite simple: the NCR. They seem to be the only alternative for bringing stability to New Vegas that, though totalitarian, isn’t competely INSANE. But before I sided with them during the Main Quest, I worked everybody else for just about everything they were worth, starting with Mr. House.

If you didn’t already know, Robert House is the 250+ year old autocratic asshole responsible for keeping the New Vegas Strip in its current encapsulated utopia (gee… sort of like a snowglobe). He’s basically a twisted combo of Walt Disney and Howard Hughes. You’ll learn quite a bit about him when you first visit his penthouse at the Lucky 38, initiating the multi-faceted quest “The House Always Wins.” You may go ahead and choose to side with House, doing his bidding like a bitch. If that’s the case, you’ll be able to immediately reap all the benefits provided by the Lucky 38 Casino. However, if you’re like me, you’ll want to put an end to his nostalgic charade of post-apocalpytic denial. The good news is that if you destroy House, you can still get most of the benefits of the Lucky 38.

First and foremost, 12,000 caps await to be deposited in your bank account… err, backpack… whatever. There are seven snowglobes to be found around the Mojave Wasteland, and to Mr. House they’re worth 2,000 caps apiece. So why then just settle for 12,000 caps instead of 14,000? Well, unfortunately, one of the snowglobes resides in the Lucky 38’s exclusive Cocktail Lounge, accessible only when you decide to buddy up with Mr. House and set his plans into motion. But that’s okay. We’re not greedy. Just make sure you exchange the other six with Jane, House’s Securitron sex companion (guess it would have to be virtual sex… you’ll see for yourself why I say that).

Secondly, after House is… taken out of the equation… you’ll STILL gain access to the best safehouse of the game, the Lucky 38 Presidential Suite! Neither the Prima Guide nor the Fallout Wiki seem to mention this little tidbit, but it’s true. The suite is yours, and you do not have to side with the wack job. Not only is it a pretty cool pad, but it’s the only upgradable safehouse in the game!

And after the geezer is gone, even the Securitrons will acknowledge you as the new boss (sort of)… because just when you thought you were finished with the Lucky 38, there’s a hell of a lot more. If you’ve already taken care of Benny, go back to his room on the 13th floor of the Topps Casino and talk to his former Securitron, Yes Man. This will start you on potentially a whole new course of action for taking New Vegas with a couple massive quest lines.

So what are you waiting for? Put the old bastard out of his misery and claim your domain in New Vegas!


Posted by on February 18, 2011 in New Vegas, Strategy


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