In Which the Dragonborn Catches a Murderer

Yesterday’s run was mostly all about doing the murder mystery plot in Windhelm, with a little extra bonus possible exorcism of Carl? Highlights:

  • Went back to the White Phial to tell the old alchemist I’d gotten his special magic bottle for him, but ohnoez, it was cracked—and his assistant was a lot more grateful about it than he was
  • Went to report to the steward in the palace to get him to allow me to help investigate the murder situation
  • Overheard Ulfric discussing plans to take over Whiterun (like four times, actually)
  • Got the steward’s permission to investigate, so went to go chat with the guard at the crime scene and look it over for clues
  • Visited the Hall of the Dead to see if the priestess there had any information
  • Found the now-abandoned house where the blood trail led, and a whole bunch of clues that led to two other people to talk to
  • Talked to a couple more people and got a pointer about a possible suspect
  • Talked to that possible suspect and got a better lead
  • Got a surprise very fast resolution as the murderer struck again, and I chased him back to the aforementioned abandoned house and took him out there
  • Got the thanks of the steward for the help and then got the hell out of Windhelm
  • Went back to Ironbind Barrow to pick up on the shiny double-enchanted weapon I’d missed before, and also killed a couple more icewraiths for the vendor in Riften
  • Headed back south again, found the Shrine of Boethiah, and then got attacked and killed by an Ancient Dragon at Kynesgrove, which rolled me back prior to finding the Shrine
  • Across the river from Windhelm, killed another generic Dragon, which may have finally exorcised Carl?
  • Returned to Whiterun and made a bunch more armor out of my excess supplies, enchanted a bunch of jewelry, and made a bunch of potions, and leveled up to 46

First thing I did to start off this session was to return to the White Phial, the alchemist’s shop, to tell the old alchemist Nurelion that I’d brought him the Phial. But—oh dear—it was cracked. He was cranky about this at me, and only grudgingly accepted my statement that it was like that when I found it. Dude forked over only five gold for my trouble, and then essentially told me to fuck off. I fucked off, but at least his assistant was nicer and gave me 500 gold for my trouble.

Then I went to work on the murder mystery plot.

Noting for the record: in theory, I really like the idea of having a murder mystery plot in Windhelm. It’s a nice change of pace from a lot of the other plotlines the game asks you to follow.

In actual practice, though, I found the quest’s storyline buggy as all get out. And in particular, the resolution was very abrupt and didn’t really give me a chance to feel like I’d successfully resolved it on my own. From what I see searching around on the web, other players had a similar experience.

A lot of the buggy behavior I’m seeing seems like it’s stuff along the same lines as other bugs I’ve encountered—which is to say, things that have been fixed in either official or unofficial patches, but which for whatever reason didn’t make it into the build of this game deployed to the Switch.

Mostly, what bugs I’ve run into haven’t really impacted my enjoyment of the game. This time, though, they kind of did.

I’m not going to go into too much detail on the murder plot just because I know of at least one friend playing this game now specifically because of my posts, and who hadn’t ever played Skyrim before… and if anybody else who hasn’t ever played Skyrim is reading this, and who enjoys murder mystery plots, I don’t want to spoil the villain for you! (Interested parties can certainly do what I did and pore over the wikis; I didn’t mind knowing in advance who the perp was because hi, I’m a Columbo fan and almost every single episode of Columbo starts off with the perp committing the murder! So I enjoy investigating the angle of “well I know who did it, now let’s get the evidence to prove it”.)

But I will say this. At least one step of the quest was buggy and never cleared out of my list of objectives, even after I did the thing necessary to check off that step.

And more importantly, once I’d had a conversation with the red herring suspect and gotten useful information from him as to when and where the murderer would strike next, the game threw me the final murder way faster than I expected. The red herring suspect advised me to go patrol in a particular part of the city “tomorrow night”—so I went out to that part of the city to hang out for a bit and do things, since it was still the middle of the day and I wanted the in-game clock to get to the right time of day.

Then the murderer struck. Right there in broad daylight. In front of witnesses. And left the body in a very public place.

And I was very surprised at this, because I was expecting to have to do the stakeout thing when the clue told me I should, i.e., at night. Not to mention the next in-game day, since the red herring suspect had specifically said “tomorrow night”. Not “as soon as you finish talking to me and go about your business”.

So while I did actually catch the perp and was able to report back to the steward about it, I feel like I missed out on some of the overall flavor of the quest by missing the whole “stakeout and patrol” part.

Let it also be noted for the record that as soon as I learned a little bit more about the perp, I had a theory as to why they did it. And my theory was correct. Ha!

And also: I wound up popping into the palace at least four times to speak with the steward at various stages of this quest. And as a general reminder, this was in Windhelm. I.e., the seat of power of Ulfric Stormcloak, the Jarl whose rebellion is driving a big part of the main plot line of this game.

So when I walk into the palace in Windhelm, I’m walking into Ulfric Stormcloak’s palace. And he’s right there on the throne, actively discussing his plans with someone I presumed to be either his housecarl or maybe his commander of his forces (I didn’t get close enough to check). And what they were discussing was taking over Whiterun.

As I told Dara and Paul last night, I feel like as a thane of Whiterun, who lives in Whiterun, with a spouse in Whiterun, I ought to be more concerned than the game thinks I should be about overhearing Ulfric Stormcloak actively planning to take over Whiterun. :O

However, to the best of my knowledge, the game doesn’t really give me any mechanism to do this unless I actively join the war. The battle for Whiterun is in fact a significant plot point if you join the Stormcloaks or the Imperials. But if you’re playing neutral, like I am with this character, there doesn’t seem to be a way to engage with that part of the plot.

I also find it kind of hysterical that I, this Bosmer in very distinctive dragonscale armor, armed to the teeth, could walk right into Ulfric Stormcloak’s palace unchallenged, where I can in fact overhear him making his plans. I should think they’d be a tiny bit more attentive to who has access to the throne room, y’know? But not a single person stopped me to go “I don’t recognize you, I can’t allow you to be in the same room with our High King”.

The game doesn’t do this at any of the other Jarls’ seats of power, to be fair, I can just waltz right into all of their throne rooms, too. But in Ulfric’s case, I should think a little bit more hardcore security would be appropriately in-character! You could handwave this, I suppose, by assuming that the guard forces in Windhelm are expecting that anybody actually in Windhelm is by default an Ulfric supporter… but seriously, Windhelm guards, do you want spies? Because that kind of assumption is totally how you get Imperial spies infiltrating your court.

A few other general thoughts on Windhelm:

  • Wandering around the place during this session, I found it a little less claustrophobic than the previous one; this was, I suppose, helped by it being during sunny daylight hours. And I did find more signs of plants than I’d noticed before, which helped. I still don’t quite like the overall architectural style of the place though.
  • I do like the market, though. And I’m amused by their blacksmith who has dialogue lines about how “everybody says Eorlund Gray-Mane is the best smith in Skyrim, I plan to change a few minds about that”. My dude, can you make dragon armor? No? Then you can get in line behind me.
  • I’d already written about how I can’t become thane of this place without committing to a side of the war, and I don’t think I’ll miss that much. But apparently the property you can buy to live in in Windhelm also happens to be the property involved in the murder plot, and there’s buggy treatment of that, too. Paul’s prior experience playing that plot was that the previous rather gruesome signs of the murder did not get cleaned up after he took over the place. And yeaaaaah I don’t think I want to live in a murder house. So any further activity I’ll be doing in Windhelm, I’ll be doing it while staying at the inn.
  • There are at least a couple more plot plots to follow up on here. The Phial plot is not actually done, but I have to wait another in-game day or two for the followup activity to occur. And I’ll also want to follow up on that epilogue to my rampage through the Thalmor Embassy, where I’ll get to help out the guy who got me into the place to begin with.

For now, though, I got the hell out of Windhelm as soon as the murder plot was done. I felt kind of spooked by the whole murder plot thing in some ways, just because the crime scenes are kind of gruesome, and the evidence you can find as part of the denouement as part of the killer’s motive is likewise kind of yikes. So I figure Alarrah wanted to go do something rather more cleansing.

Like go back to Ironbind Barrow and grab loot she missed the first time. :D

The wiki told me I’d missed a couple of interesting things about that place. First and foremost, there was a weapon there with a double enchantment—one that does fire damage and the Soul Trap spell that lets you fill soul gems! And this is like the only weapon in the game that has that enchantment. I wanted to nab it so I could go destroy it and learn the enchantment.

Got back into the place with no problems, and since I’d only just visited it in the prior session, it hadn’t had time to re-spawn anything to fight. So my only real challenge to reaching the weapon was to get back through the gate trap that blocked the way. Which was a problem given that the original trigger for the trap was a heavy steel helmet that had previously been sitting on it.

I tried to put something out of my inventory on it. But as soon as I dropped a circlet I could have sworn I was carrying, the damn thing up and vanished. I looked all over the floor for it and couldn’t find it anywhere. So I wound up having to just jump on the thing to trigger the gate—which was a problem given that that triggered some spikes coming down out of the ceiling to hit me. OW.

Didn’t do much damage to me, given my armor and my level, but I could have seen this totally killing a lower level character. Don’t try this at home, kids!

That did at least let me get through the gate and go get that weapon. And to get out, I came out the shortcut way this time to do the other thing I’d missed—a path up to a tiny Dwemer ruin which had a bit more loot. But also a couple of icewraiths. Which I wanted to kill so as to get their teeth for the food vendor in Riften!

At that point, though, I was overloaded again. I had a couple of potions of strength to blow, which I did, and that got me a decent ways along at least back down to the vicinity of Windhelm. But then I had to figure out what to do next, because I ran out of potions of strength.

During this part of my excursion south, I also accidentally came across the locales to trigger the Daedric quest for Boethiah. Which I’ve already written about as something I wanted to avoid—but apparently if you find Boethiah’s Shrine, that also actively triggers the quest.

I was not particularly pleased about that, but there’s nothing stopping you from just ignoring a quest if you get one. So for that moment I just turned around and did not go anywhere nearer to the Shrine. I headed further south instead, and found a back way into Kynesgrove.

Where I was promptly attacked by an Ancient Dragon.

Other NPCs engaged it in battle too, but eventually, I got close enough to the damn thing that it was able to do that attack of grabbing me with his maw, shaking me, and flinging me aside. Which killed me pretty much instantly. Ow ow ow. That threw me back a few auto-saves to a point just before I’d found the Shrine, though, so I was kind of okay with losing that part of the run.

Since I was still pretty near Windhelm, I elected to not re-enter Windhelm even though I was still overloaded and could arguably have sold a lot of the stuff I was carrying to fix that problem. But I was still kind of really not in the mood to be in Murder Town!

So I started trying to head south again. And it wasn’t too far along on the side of the river opposite Windhelm where I got jumped by another dragon—but this time it was just a generic “Dragon”.

Which I did successfully kill. And this means I might have just finally exorcised Carl! We’ll have to see if I have any further Carl sightings.

Also, the rollback from the Ancient Dragon problems also meant I suddenly had at least one potion of strength back again. So I finally went derp why am I not fast traveling to Whiterun.

Which I did. And fortunately, I had no further dragons falling on me out of the sky once I landed at the Western Watchtower.

I Whirlwind-Sprinted closer to Whiterun, and then went the last stretch of the way in without that, for the sake of not spooking the guards. And on this particular entry, I figure Alarrah was a little more “oh thank Divines HI WHITERUN” than normal!

Final actions of the evening: building out the rest of a set of ebony armor to see about giving to my beloved Lydia, though I need to improve the final piece once I get more ebony; destroying that weapon to learn its enchantment, and then enchanting a bunch of jewelry; and making a bunch of potions. And, leveling up to 46!

Next time: Now that I’m at 46 I’m high enough level to go after the Alduin’s Wall quest! So I’m going to see about that next, finally!

P.S. Editing to add: oh yeah, forgot to mention that one of the guards in Windhelm was finally the first to notice that hi, I’m walking around in dragonscale armor! I heard him actually whistle and deliver this line: “Is your armor made of… dragon scales? By the gods, what I wouldn’t do for a set of that.”

LOLOLOL. Welp, my dude, what I had to do was kill a dragon, and then get legendary at smithing. If you don’t want to try that, my fee is 5,000 gold. ;)