In Which the Dragonborn Joins the Dawnguard

As promised, my defeat of Alduin was not the end of my adventures in Skyrim! With this post, I commence Alarrah’s next overall Skyrim adventure: running the quests for the DLC Dawnguard.

Details and highlights behind the fold!

Highlights

  • Reset my Sneak with the “Legendary” tag, which kicked it back down to 15 and gave me back five Perk points to spend, so I dropped all of those on Archery
  • Also tromped around the Whiterun plains for a while with Sneak on, just to start building the points back up, and to throw Bound Bow a few times to work on Conjuration
  • Stopped by Heljarchen for a little building
  • Picked up a bunch of building materials Heljarchen didn’t need, but that made me overloaded, so returning to Whiterun was slow–but at least it let me practice Sneak some more
  • When I got back home, had amusing interactions with Lucia <3
  • Cleared out the inventory enough to be able to fast travel again, and then headed to Winterhold to stop by the college for more Illusion and Conjuration training
  • Visited the Midden to play with the Atronach Forge, which let me make a whole lot of fire salts, and some frost salts as well
  • Re-visited Shalidor’s Maze to double-check those lootable spots I’d missed
  • Then went down to the Rift to look for Fort Dawnguard to get the vampire hunting underway
  • Got jumped by a couple of thieves on the way to looking for Fort Dawnguard, and did not have time for any of their bullshit
  • I came in with an NPC who clearly was a fresh-faced farm boy and got some fairly snarky commentary from the leader, Isran; me, on the other hand, he just gave a crossbow and bolts to and ordered me to go find out what the vampires wanted with Dimhollow Crypt
  • I’d found this place before but hadn’t explored it, so I was able to fast travel to it more or less
  • Combination draugr/spider/vampire hive, but nothing I couldn’t take out with my dragonbone bow; tried the crossbow a couple of times but it felt a bit weird so I’ll need to practice with it
  • What the vampires wanted with Dimhollow Crypt was not really clear, but presumably “the mysterious stone pillar that had a woman trapped in it”
  • Got Serana freed from the pillar, and got her to ask me to take her home
  • Also couldn’t help but notice HEY YOU HAVE AN ELDER SCROLL
  • Took Serana back to her family castle, despite the obvious “bad idea” written all over that plan
  • Serana’s father Harkon offered to make me a vampire lord by way of reward for bringing his daughter and the Scroll to him; I declined
  • He declared RIGHT THEN you’re prey and teleported me out of the castle
  • I returned to the Dawnguard to check in, only to find them being attacked by vampires
  • Isran was understandably cranky that I’d turned over a vampire and an Elder Scroll to a vampire hive; I pointed out that there were a whole lot of them and only one of me
  • Isran then told me to go find a couple of his old colleagues to try to recruit them for the Dawnguard forces

Playing with resetting my Sneak, and another visit to Heljarchen

Once I’d gotten Alduin dealt with, I figured it was now finally safe to play around with doing the thing where you can tag a skill “Legendary”. This resets it to 15 and gives you all your perk points spent on that skill back, which then allows you to spend those perk points elsewhere.

Before now, I wasn’t willing to risk my Smithing on that–but once my Sneak hit 100, I felt like I’d be willing to risk that one. Because Sneak, while certainly critical, is also very easy to regenerate. During the main storyline I had Sneak on pretty much constantly, which got my Sneak built up super fast and it was definitely my highest Skill for a good part of the main game.

So I tried this out. Got five perk points back, which I promptly dumped onto Archery. (I had also noticed some time ago that several of the perks are actually multi-tier, where you can ding the same perk multiple times to get it to level up. I wanted to make sure to attend to that.)

And then I ran around the plains of Whiterun for a while just hunting, with Sneak on. I got back like 7-8 points of Sneak just doing that.

Also threw Bound Bow a couple of times, just to practice Conjuration, and did a little hunting as well to be the actual in-character reason for why I was out doing this.

This also put me within visiting range of Heljarchen, so I popped in there to build a few things. Noticed as I did that bard Oriella had a new song, “Tale of the Tongues”. This song apparently shows up in the game after you defeat Alduin. <3 Since I heard this first from one of my own hired bards, I feel like I have license to make the IC assumption Oriella wrote it!

I had a lot more building materials at Heljarchen than I really needed there, so I grabbed a lot of them to deploy elsewhere. But this did make me overburdened, so I had to tromp very slowly back to Whiterun.

Sensible people would of course have just dropped off enough building materials to get unburdened again, but hey, this also gave me more opportunity to regenerate my Sneak. :D

Back to Whiterun, then off to Winterhold

Once I finally made it back into Whiterun, I got greeted at the door of Breezehome by Lucia, who presented me with a present she’d found: an Ashen Grass Pod. Gee, thanks honey!

(Note: the Ashen Grass Pod is an alchemy ingredient which, the wiki informs me, is a version of the Grass Pod that you can get from spiky grass that grows only on Solstheim. Which means my kid found a Solstheim-based alchemy ingredient. Lucia honey, where exactly did you find this? I think I may need to go sell this back to Arcadia, if Arcadia’s dropping some of her ingredients in the vicinity of her store…)

After I dropped off all the things, I picked up a few other things for my next stop: the mage college. I specifically wanted to play with the Atronach Forge to see if I could successfully make things with it.

Answer: yes. I had ingredients to let me make a whole bunch of fire salts, and I made a frost salt as well.

From what I see on the wiki, the various other things I could make at the forge aren’t necessarily useful to this character. The one exception is a spellbook of Conjure Frost Atronach, which I may go ahead and make because I don’t have that spell yet. Mostly though the big sell for the Forge seems to be its ability to make Daedric armor and weaponry, which seems redundant given that I currently have Daedric unlocked on my Smithing skill tree–so as long as I have Daedra hearts and enough ebony, I can go ahead and make any Daedric thing I want.

(And given that I’m not a Heavy Armor person with this character, I’m only interested in the bows and arrows anyway.)

But mostly though this was an experiment to see if it was useful and/or fun. I may come back and do the spellbook later, but for the time being it doesn’t seem like a thing I need to care about with Alarrah.

While at the college, I got in my training for Illusion and Conjuration as well.

One more stop at Labyrinthian

After that, I stopped at Labyrinthian one more time, just because i wanted to find those hard-to-find lootable spots that the wiki walkthrough had mentioned. And which I’d had to actually consult a YouTube video for, because the wiki was not adequately clear about how to find them.

Answer: I had to get to them by jumping over from a certain spot on the upper level of the dungeon. Once I did that, I was able to get to the spots in question.

But that said, meh, it wasn’t really worth it. Neither the chest nor the lootable skeleton on the opposite side of the maze had anything really interesting.

On subsequent playthroughs I’ll have to just remember to pop into those spots, but it definitely wasn’t necessary for Alarrah.

Onward to the Dawnguard

Blipped down to the Rift after that, finally, because it was time to go find the Dawnguard.

On the way to searching for their hidden fort, I got jumped by a couple of thieves who tried to rob me. I had no time for their bullshit, particularly after I gave them one warning to back off. But I failed the Intimidate check, so went with “I do not have time for this” instead, which pissed off the thief and made him yell “Don’t walk away from me” and attack.

I kicked his ass. For good measure, I also kicked the ass of the Bosmer mage who also attacked me at that point, presumably because he was an ally of the thief. And though I didn’t really like to wail on a fellow Bosmer, well, he attacked me first.

Finally found the way into Fort Dawnguard after hunting around a bit. Once I came in, I got greeted at the castle entrance by a guy who hollered out something about “new recruits”, and told me to go on in.

I went on in, and found the Dawnguard leader, Isran, having an argument with a Vigilant of Stendarr who’d come looking for help because his entire hall had been destroyed by vampires. Isran had very few fucks to give about this, because he’d warned the Vigilants that the vampires were a threat.

But he also noticed me, and demanded to know what I was doing there. I told him I’d heard they were looking for vampire hunters and asked how I could help. So he told me to go check out Dimhollow Crypt and see what I could find out about what the vampires wanted with the place. Vigilant Tolan horned in on this conversation and told me he’d meet me there, because he was determined to try to help the fight as best he could. And never mind that Isran tried very hard to warn him off.

I took the crossbow and 45 bolts for it that Isran offered me. And while he told me I had free rein to take any other gear around the place I might find useful, I declined that. I saw quickly after poking around a little that they didn’t have anything immediately obvious that was better than what I was already carrying (and they’d have to work real hard to do better than my dragonscale armor).

Another NPC had come in behind me, too, and Isran turned to question him next. Turned out he was some kind of fresh-faced young farmboy, and Isran had to walk him through how to use a crossbow. Heh. He didn’t bother to try to walk me through using a crossbow. Presumably because he was able to realize I was walking around with a stupendous amount of weaponry already. ;D

(Still, I was grateful for the new shoot-y toy!)

Off I went then, with my stupendous amount of weaponry, to Dimhollow Crypt.

Hey, haven’t I been here before…?

I thought the name of this place sounded familiar, and this was because yeah, I’d actually found it on previous wandering around. So I had a marker for it on my map already, which meant I could fast travel to it.

Which was good, because I actually initially tried to fast travel to another nearby point, and had trouble actually finding the correct entrance wandering around on foot. So I finally opted to just fast travel and get in there to get the dungeon crawl started.

Reactivated my Sneak, just to keep it active and get those points built back up (and I think by the time I was done with this dungeon, the skill was closing in on 30? Like I said, very easy to bump up your Sneak).

This was not a terribly complex dungeon, though there were a few gates that needed me to find levers for them, just to make it interesting. The bigger challenges were the assorted vampires I needed to take down, which I could still do well from a distance despite my Sneak being lower again. Note also that I was wearing my Shrouded armor, for the Sneak assistance from that.

It didn’t take me long to discover, too, that Vigilant Tolan really, really should have listened to Isran. He’d gotten there before me, and had been taken down by vampires that unfortunately outnumbered him.

Further in, after killing assorted draugr, frostbite spiders, and additional vampires, I found a second Vigilant getting tortured by NPCs. They killed him before I had any chance to save him, but I took down the vampires pretty fast from afar. Thank you, dragonbone bow.

Freeing Serana

The big point of this dungeon turned out to be the large mysterious puzzle in the middle, with a large mysterious pillar in the center. Once I solved this puzzle, the pillar opened to reveal a woman, who stumbled free as soon as her way was clear.

A woman who was, as it happened, a vampire.

This is the point at which I found the entire beginning of the plot a little sketchy–because I feel like as soon as Alarrah figured out she’d actually liberated a vampire, she’d be ready to dice her on the spot. This is because almost without exception, every single vampire Alarrah has encountered has been hostile. (There are exceptions–the vampires who were imprisoned in Fellglow Keep come to mind, as well as the vampire who’s actually on Elisif’s court. But I only freed one of those vampires, and I have not yet discovered in-character that Elisif’s wizard is in fact a vampire, so.)

But the game gives me no mechanism to kill Serana immediately, of course. Understandably, because she’s critical to the plot and if you kill her immediately, there’s no plot! Still, though, the closest I was able to get to “why am I not killing you now?” is a dialogue prompt to the effect of “The Dawnguard would want me to kill you.” This is a prompt I didn’t take, because it’s not “why am I not killing you now?” Which I think would have been more to the point.

And even if I’d taken that prompt, Serana would have argued that there were bigger things going on, so if I wanted to find out what they were, I should let her live.

There is also the legit big question of “okay, so even if I let this vampire live, why exactly am I taking her home?” Because:

  1. Surely this vampire is capable of defending herself? She certainly seemed to be, as I worked on getting us out of the dungeon
  2. Letting one vampire live is one thing, but voluntarily walking with this vampire into her own family’s keep seems like suicide

There are, I think, two ways I can handwave this.

  1. It becomes obvious in conversation with Serana that she’s been trapped in that pillar a very long time, long enough that the entire idea of Cyrodiil having an empire is entirely unfamiliar to her.  Which suggests in turn that she asks for help getting home because she’s aware that Skyrim has very likely massively changed since she went into the pillar.
  2. It is impossible for the player to miss that Serana is carrying an Elder Scroll; there’s a dialogue prompt for asking her about it and everything. Given that Alarrah has in fact just saved the world from Alduin with the help of an Elder Scroll, the significance of Serana having one cannot be lost upon her. Dara suggested to me that Alarrah is therefore willing to not kill Serana–and even to go to her home with her–on general grounds of gathering intelligence, and wanting to know more about this vampire clan that’s apparently powerful enough to get their mitts on an Elder Scroll.

Now that said, there’s also one more dodgy question here, which is: from what I’m seeing on the wiki, Serana was deliberately shut up in the pillar by her and her mother’s plans to get the Scroll away from Harkon. In which case, why the hell does she want to go home?

Best I can figure is that she wanted to at least check and see if a) her family was still an active vampire clan, and b) her father was still batshit.

All of this, though, is stuff I feel like I’m having to think up headcanons for, which amounts to this: the beginning of this plot was a little shaky. Not in a game-breaking kind of way, mind you, but in a way that makes me feel like they might have wanted to do another passthrough on clarifying the dialogue options and talking about what made narrative sense.

(This is what happens when a writer plays a video game, y’all. We’ll be paying extra attention to what makes narrative sense!)

Moving on, though…

Taking Serana home

Possibly one of the biggest selling points in Serana’s favor, though, was that she was actively not hostile. So although Alarrah probably felt like it was against her better judgement, she agreed to escort this vampire woman to where she needed to go.

Which turned out to be her family keep northwest on Solitude, in a corner of the map I hadn’t made it to yet. Fortunately, I could fast travel most of the way, and just had to figure out where to land to find the boat to get over to the island.

Found the boat with only a little bit of hunting around, and Serana and I were able to use it to get to where we needed to go. Once we made it to the front entrance of the keep, Serana warned me to let her take the lead and do the talking–prudently enough. Alarrah would be distinctive regardless being a living woman striding into a court of vampires, but all the more so given that she wears dragonscale armor and all.

The keep’s watchman was set to be all cranky at me for intruding on them–until he realized I had Serana with me. At which point he ran inside yelling about Serana being back. I followed her in, and witnessed her reunion with her father. About which she didn’t seem exactly pleased.

Harkon turned to me then and offered to reward me for bringing him both his daughter and an Elder Scroll. (Amusingly, not a single one of them seemed to realize I had an Elder Scroll of my own in my inventory–which is funny given how many guards have running commentary on my equipment all the damn time.) His idea of a suitable reward: offering to make me a vampire lord just like him.

Uh. Yeah, no. Hard pass.

I suppose there are characters who, even after saving the world from Alduin, would be willing to join forces with a powerful vampire clan–but Alarrah isn’t one of those characters. Not after the number of vampires she’s killed, and not when she has a very much alive spouse and child back in Whiterun. As a player who’s also a writer and therefore sensitive to narratives needing to make sense (see commentary above), I just have a hard time seeing a narrative line that gets from “save the world from Alduin” to “join up with vampires”.

I think it’d make more sense, maybe, if you played through the Dawnguard plot before going after Alduin…?

Regardless, I did the whole “nope, hard pass” thing at Harkon, which seemed to offend him. He huffily proclaimed that so be it, I was therefore prey like any other mortal, and he’d let me go only this once. And promptly teleported me outside.

I took that as my cue to get the fuck off Vampire Island, and took the boat back over to the mainland.

Reporting back to the Dawnguard

It seemed like a pretty necessary next step to go report back to Isran and the Dawnguard. So I headed back to Riften to do that, after briefly flirting with the idea of stopping in Solitude to sell stuff, but then deciding against it.

Came back to Fort Dawnguard to discover it was under attack, whoops. By vampires from Serana’s clan, in fact. And I wound up having to play through this part twice–because when I joined battle the first time, I accidentally hit one of the Dawnguard NPCs and triggered a bounty in Riften. Boooo.

Second time through though I didn’t have to do anything–Isran and the other NPCs killed the attackers before I had to join the fray. So all I had to do was check in with Isran and tell him my news.

Understandably, he was less than pleased that I not only found a vampire and didn’t kill her on the spot, not only did I return her to her vampire clan, I also returned the Elder Scroll to them. And this is the part at which I wish I really could have had a better explanation for WTF, because the only real dialogue options given to me didn’t seem adequate.

Doublechecking the wiki, I see that the concept of playing along with the vampire woman was in fact part of the idea, so that’s good at least–but the dialogue options are ones you don’t get unless you specifically take Serana to the Dawnguard first.

Okay then. In that case I’m going to consider it my headcanon that Alarrah did this to play along and report back to the Dawnguard later, even if she did things in a bit reverse order from how the script wanted.

Fortunately for the plot, Isran wasn’t exactly inclined to dismiss me outright. And he gave me a new task: finding a couple of his colleagues that he wanted me to recruit into the Dawnguard.

Next time

Gotta go find Isran’s colleagues, and maybe practice with the crossbow and get the Sneak back up!