Skyrim director’s cut: tool time

, | Game diaries

The Drunken Huntsman in the city of Whiterun is one Twain’s favorite haunts in all of Skyrim. My character is a sneaky guy who kills lots of stuff with arrows, and the Huntsman is a great place to both replenish ammunition and also check for bow upgrades. Twain’s been shopping here since he was a mere level 2 rube visiting the big city to take the Ataxia cure at the temple.

That first visit, Elrindir the proprietor showed the young and impressionable Twain a mix of goods of fairly low quality. If I made no changes to the way Skyrim works, when I’d send him back in to the store at level 10, level 15, and level 20 he’d see incrementally more powerful things on offer to buy. While it’s certainly nice to be able to buy better and better gear as you advance in the game, it also illustrates a problem inherent with vanilla Skyrim.

After the jump, making crafting worthwhile

It isn’t just the merchants around Skyrim who show you better gear to buy as you move up levels. You’ll also find that the bandits, monsters, and other stuff you kill provides you with better gear to loot the higher you are. The bandit you kill at level 2 might let you loot an iron mace off his body; the bandit outlaw you take out at level 10 will likely have steel weapons. As you keep leveling up, NPCs who have bad intentions toward you attack you with high-quality dwemer (dwarvish), elven, and orcish gear, all of which is lootable. By the time you level into the 30’s and 40’s, you can find shopkeepers around Skyrim who carry the supposedly rare element of ebony in arms and armor right behind the counter.

What that means is that there’s precious little reason to engage in crafting in the game unless it’s something you enjoy or are role playing a character type. You could spend a bunch of game-days at the forge and craft some high-level gear…or you could just head out and kill stuff and get there just as quickly. The reason this occurs is due to one of the more controversial elements of Bethesda games, a concept called “leveled lists”. Leveled lists are lists of every possible loot piece or individual monster in the game. The monsters you fight and the loot you can take off of them or buy from merchants scales to your current character level in Skyrim.

What if you want some balance in the game, though? What if you want Skyrim to reward both questing or exploring as well as spending time tending the forge or futzing about with ingredients at an alchemist’s table? To get there, we’ve got to make some adjustments.

Messing around with Skyrim’s leveled list infrastructure is dangerous. The changes you allow a mod to make here can bring new meaning to the law of unexpected consequences. You’re changing a fundamental building block of the game’s structure when you fiddle with those lists. Having said that, there are some outstanding mods that deal with leveled lists that are well thought out and heavily playtested. The one I’m currently using is called Morrowloot. What Morrowloot does is make rare things actually rare by taking dwarf-make weapons and armor or above off the leveled lists. It makes sure that only orcs get orc gear, elves get elven gear, and dwarven gear can be found mostly in dwemer ruins. Pieces of ebony and glass armor are rare, with only a few sets known in the game…and it puts exactly one set of Daedric armor in all of Skyrim, and scatters the set around. If that’s a bit too hardcore for you, there’s a variation you can use — apparently for wimps — that allows you to craft a few of those ultra high-level pieces if your skill is great enough, but only after you’ve found some of each respective type of gear to presumably learn how to work with it.

I’ve now put a reason to craft back into the game. Even with Twain unable to craft the really rare items in the game, he can still skill up and make plenty of worthwhile equipment for himself. With that done, now it is time to take a look at the other big changes I’ve made to really put some oomph in the crafting system. These mods all revolve around a central hub, a massive overhaul to much of the inner workings of the game. It’s a mod called Skyrim Redone, and it is truly a game-changer in every sense of the word.
Skyrim Redone alters many things about the game, but for our purposes here I’m going to talk about how it affects the crafting system. (We’ll talk about some of the other changes that Skyrim Redone makes in tomorrow’s diary). SKYRE (as it’s known) reworks the Blacksmith perk tree into two wholly separate disciplines — heavy and light. More realistically, that “light” tree is the sort of crafting that compares to leatherworking and fast weapons in an MMO like Guild Wars 2, while the “heavy” tree is geared more towards traditional metallurgical blacksmithing tasks. Another aspect to the mod that I like is that it confers a small amount of smithing skill experience on your character for doing mining work.

To be clear — Skyrim Redone is absolutely not a mod for people playing the game for the first time. It makes fundamental changes to the way the game works, and those changes can be frustratingly complex if you aren’t completely clear on the way things function with this mod in place. Additionally, if you’re going to use SKYRE with a bunch of other mods, you’re going to need to either make sure they’re all compatible by downloading individual compatibility patches for everything, and probably know how to use a complex and powerful mod installation tool like Wrye Bash.

With those caveats out of the way, let’s get back to our man in Tamriel. Since he’ll be working the forge now, Twain is going to need to find a steady supply of materials to work with. The area he spent so much time in at the earliest stages of the game between Riverwood and Whiterun yielded plenty of materials for armor work; wolves in particular seem like little pinatas of leather strips that come running up to you begging to be harvested. The animal hides aren’t going to be enough though. Twain’s going to have to get his Heigh Ho on by mining ore–which is sometimes fairly difficult to detect with the naked eye.

To that end, I’m also using a variant of the very popular Glowing Ore Veins mod. The patch to the original basically does the same thing, but makes the “glow” a little less incandescent. No reason to see an iron ore deposit on the horizon, after all.

I’m giving Twain one other reason to spend time at the forge in Skyrim. I finally decided to try things out without the Climates Of Tamriel lighting and weather mod and brought back the Frostfall mod to my game. In a previous diary, I mentioned that Frostfall is a mod that forces your character to do realistic things to survive in the coldest parts of Skyrim or risk dying of exposure and hypothermia (I disabled it because it conflicts with Climates Of Tamriel, but decided after a lot of playing that I wanted it more than the environmental effects.) With Frostfall back in the mix, now Twain is also crafting camping gear — tents, bedrolls, that sort of thing — while also needing to make sure he makes himself a decent set of cold-weather apparel to wear in the blowing snow.

Most of the crafting I’ve done in Skyrim has centered around the forge, but obviously there are other areas for would-be artisans in the game, too. Since I have a character type in mind, I haven’t had my guy do much at all with alchemy stations. Potions and whatnot? That’s for dainty men in robes. There’s one other area to craft in the game, though. A rogue — like an army — travels on his stomach, so a fellow’s got to cook!

By using the mod Babette’s Feast, I’ve added a bunch of new and complex recipes that not only satiate the hunger caused by Realistic Needs & Diseases, but also add some stat and skill bonuses (with the better bonuses coming from more exotic concoctions). Sadly, Skyrim lacks a cooking perk tree, so using the cooking fire in the game will never feel quite as rewarding as cooking in an MMO like Guild Wars 2. Still, it’s very nice to have some Snowberry Pie handy for some of the more challenging points in the game.

That’s largely how Twain is spending his teen years, then. He works the forge and tanning rack one day, hits up the cooking pots the next, and then maybe does a multi-day excursion to hunt materials off of wild game and mined from the rocks. As his skills and levels go up, it’s becoming time for him to assert himself as the scoundrel and rogue I want him to be.

Next up: Thievery Corporation.