This session was pretty much “doing some loose ends before I finally take on Miraak”. The most major of these loose ends was to take on the ghost frost giant Karstaag, one of the most powerful monsters in the entire game, just to see if I could take him out. Answer: yes, but boy howdy did that take some work!
Also, I progressed the plot line for Kolbjorn Barrow, and finished the run through the Hidden Twilight Black Book.
- Finished running the Hidden Twilight Black Book in Tel Mithryn; chose the Mora’s Boon option off the Book
- Triggered a request to get him a heartstone when I talked to Neloth
- Went bouncing around the north shore of the island a lot, looking for the Glacial Cave so I could find the skull of the frost giant Karstaag; actually found the Karstaag Caverns and Ruins first, then found the Glacial Cave
- Fought a few random reavers on the way to the Glacial Cave; Clanky also killed a horker
- Got Karstaag’s skull out of the Glacial Cave, then headed into the Ruins to actually find the skull to put it on, which caused Karstaag to spawn; Karstaag then proceeded to hand me my ass, ouch; tried to summon Durnehviir without success
- Decided that I was going to have to do some more hardcore prep to come after him, and retreated to Raven Rock
- Got my heartstones from my stash and took one back to Tel Mithryn to give it to Neloth; met another madman on the way who also ranted at me about Black Books, and who pointed me yet again at the one in Tel Mithryn; way ahead of you on that, dude
- This time the madman got killed by Clanky instead of Lydia
- Gave the heartstone to Neloth, also got another round of Conjuration training off of his apprentice
- Had a peek at the Kolbjorn camp and saw that it was indeed bigger again this time, but I hadn’t gotten Ralis’ third message, so I tried to go back to Raven Rock yet again
- Only now this time I did get the courier with the third message, so I turned right around and went to Kolbjorn
- Cleared out the new wave of draugr, and got a couple more of the Ahzidal artifacts; had to clear a floor puzzle to get to the second one
- Ralis dinged me for 5,000 septims this time, to hire yet more miners and also more experienced mercenaries
- Back again to Severin Manor, did more smithing and enchanting and crafting to get my level up to 62; double-enchanted the hell out of my stalhrim weapons to prep for fighting Karstaag, and in particular, Fire Damage + Fiery Soul Trap on the stalhrim sword
- Also loaded armor and one-handed bonuses and Resist Frost onto a necklace and a ring
- Went back after Karstaag; threw a fire rune down in front of his throne, and also queued up the fire spiders to throw at him with the left hand; also tried the Call of Valor Shout without success, as my summoned Sovngarde hero got sent right back to Sovngarde
- Also, Karstaag kept knocking me down into a lower level of the caverns but this time he didn’t actually kill me so I was able to come running back and wail on him with the fire spiders and my fiery stalhrim sword
- After the fight, tried to summon Durneviir again just to do it, and that was kind of delightful
- Returned to Raven Rock one more time to settle down for the night
Finishing the Hidden Twilight Black Book
Each of the Black Book quests have their own distinctive little flairs, and this one was no exception. The notable thing for this section of Apocrypha for me was that it wasn’t entirely linear. I had to backtrack a few times just to correctly trigger all the scryes necessary to advance through the level—and this was by design, as opposed to “oh shit I missed something, where was it, I’d better check the wiki”.
Mind you, I also had some “oh shit I missed something” going on, but the backtrack-y layout of the level was specifically by design!
Of the rewards available off this Black Book, the ones called “Mora’s Agony” and “Mora’s Grasp” just didn’t sound very appealing to me, particularly after seeing Hermaeus Mora swamp poor Storn Crag-Strider with his tentacles. I went with “Mora’s Boon” instead.
And since I read this Black Book in Tel Mithryn, I double-checked with Neloth just to see if that actually triggered any interesting responses from him, but no? Apparently the dude has no problem with people just wandering in and reading his stuff. He didn’t even ask me to put the book back. So apparently the game doesn’t account for that?
Whatever works, as long as Neloth doesn’t get cranky at me for stealing the book out of his back room.
I did get him to ask me to bring him a heartstone, though. CAN DO. I have over thirty of them!
Hunting for Karstaag
But before I brought him back the heartstone, I went hunting for the cave with the frost giant Karstaag in it.
Karstaag is one of the most powerful monsters in the entire game. The wiki says he is in fact level 90, and warns that any player who wants to take him on should be damn well prepared. Of particular interest is that Karstaag is invulnerable to a lot of normal attacks, but he does have a weakness to fire.
Paul gave me similar warnings and tips about fighting him—warnings that, while I was not able to apply properly the first time through, did help later!
But first I had to actually find him. This was a thing that had to be done in stages, because part one is, you find Karstaag’s skull. Part two is, you put the skull on the appropriate throne to trigger his appearance. And the skull is not in the same place as the throne.
The skull was in Glacial Cave, which I had to hunt around to find. I got enough clues to go on from the wiki—north of Benkongerike, on the north end of the island—but that still was unspecific enough that I still had a nice bit of challenge trying to find the place. I wound up using the Become Ethereal and Whirlwind Sprint Shouts a couple of times, just going back and forth across various ledges and crevices, and jumping down from various higher plateaus, trying to locate the cave.
When I finally found it, I’d also actually found the other places I needed to get to for Karstaag first. So once I got past a couple of rieklings and was able to retrieve the skull, I could go straight to the other cavern that contained the throne.
There were two options for getting into the relevant cavern—coming in through a cave system, or picking the lock on an exterior door. I went with the door option.
Inside I found a couple more rieklings, as well as the throne. The rieklings were not a problem. Once I put the skull on the throne, though, wow was that a fight.
My first attempt to go after Karstaag did not involve enough prep. What I tried the first time through was quaffing a bunch of potions to temporarily bump up my health and such, and slapping a poison on my weapon. I also tried my Shout to summon the dragon Durnehviir from the Soul Cairn.
These steps did not work. Durnehviir barely fit in the cavern, but even after he showed up, Karstaag killed me so fast that I didn’t have a chance to see if the dragon could have beaten him.
Also, I got thrown into a weird endless loop where the game kept trying to reset back to my previous auto-save, but kept bringing me back into the middle of the “yep, Karstaag sure did just hand you your ass, you’re dead” animation. Which suggested to me that it had tried to auto-save right in the middle of said ass-handing.
So I had to manually kill the game and make it load from the auto-save before that, which got me to back to the point of having the skull and knowing where the throne was, but before I’d started the fight.
And I decided on a strategic retreat for the time being so I could get better prepared for round two.
Continuing the Unearthed quest at Kolbjorn Barrow
So I blipped back to Raven Rock to check in there, and get my heartstones so I could give one to Neloth. On the way to Tel Mithryn to do that, I triggered another round of the “madman rants at you about the Black Book” thing. Which played exactly the same way as the first time, including the exact same type of madman NPC.
While I as player know that this just means that this random encounter has only one type of madman NPC to throw at you, I think this probably must have raised disturbing questions to Alarrah, who was wondering “uh, didn’t Lydia already kill this guy?”
This time, though, Clanky killed him when he started trying to attack me.
I think it was also on this run over to Tel Mithryn where I got attacked by a Wood Elf NPC, who was a conjurer. This encounter did not go well, either for the Wood Elf or for the Frost Atronach he tried to summon.
Made over to Tel Mithryn, dropped off the heartstone, and also got another round of Conjuration training off of Neloth’s apprentice.
On the way back, had another peek at Kolbjorn Barrow and saw that the mining camp had indeed grown. And it even had other NPCs wandering around it. So Ralis had clearly been spending my money the way he’d promised, hiring miners to work on the place.
Still though, I hadn’t gotten the next note from him, so there wasn’t anything for me to do…
… until I made it back to Raven Rock and the courier showed up with that note, along with a rueful remark that Ralis was in fact starting to scare him a little. Snerk. Dude, do you deliver personal commentary to anybody else you bring letters to? Do you get paid for that? 🤨
Anyhow, I turned right back around and went back to Kolbjorn, to discover that yep, they sure had triggered another wave of draugr. And those mercenaries Ralis had hired? Asses handed to them. Ralis asked me to go back in there and “make the draugr dead again”.
(And at this point, Alarrah’s probably wondering why she isn’t just staying put monitoring this place, because if she’d been on site the last two times draugr had been woken up, more miners would probably still be alive!)
Back into the breach, though, and by breach I mean barrow. They’d excavated yet more of it, and this time I had two different artifacts to find, which required a bit more creative location of appropriate chains to pull to reveal their locations. And maneuvering of a floor puzzle that required activating all of the tiles at the same time.
This was tricky, given that all of the tiles also had a limited span of time in which they remained active. So as per the advice of the wiki, I had to engage the Slow Time and Whirlwind Sprint Shouts. Whirlwind Sprint actually wound up working a little better because I’ve only got one word of Slow Time, so Slow Time didn’t actually last long enough to let me do the whole floor before it expired.
I did finally solve the puzzle though and get the relevant gate open. Past that gate, the artifact I wanted, a ring, was on a pillar across a little flooded chamber. Getting into that water was fine—it wasn’t deep enough that I had to worry about drowning, even though I did have waterbreathing protection—but getting up to the platform with the pillar was surprisingly tricky. So was getting back out of the water again once I finally retrieved the ring.
And even when I headed out of the barrow, I kept hearing the sound for the water noises playing. That didn’t clear up until I finally exited the barrow.
And this time, Ralis asked me for 5,000 septims to hire yet more miners and more experienced mercenaries. He warned that we had a bad reputation amongst the locals now, and the only counterweight to that was more coin.
I paid up. Though I’m also now wondering where the hell he was finding his people from, because Raven Rock doesn’t seem all that large! (Though this is a matter, I think, of none of the towns in Skyrim seeming quite large enough to contain all of the people that theoretically live in them. If they were large enough, I think it’d be more difficult to play through them.)
Alarrah vs. Karstaag, round two
After doing that round of the Kolbjorn quest, I retreated to Severin Manor yet again to work on an improved strategy for dealing with the frost giant.
Because both the wiki and Paul had highly recommended fire, I realized I had some additional tricks at my disposal:
- The fire spiders I’d created at White Ridge Barrow
- The previously learned Fire Damage enchantment
- The previously learned Fiery Soul Trap enchantment
And, ever so conveniently, I had a stalhrim sword immediately handy that I had not yet enchanted. Plus, I had a boatload of jewelry without any enchantments yet, which could also get loaded up with relevant enchantments. So I geared up with my “do all the smithing” outfit and accessories, and went to town.
Wound up with the stalhrim sword (and for good measure, my stalhrim bow in case I also needed it) double-enchanted with both the Fire Damage and Fiery Soul Trap enchantments. And on a ring and a necklace, I also threw in some enchantments for Fortify One-Handed, Fortify Light Armor, Block, and Resist Frost onto various pieces of jewelry.
(And honestly I’m not sure which pieces of jewelry I actually had on for the fight; the critical thing was definitely the stalhrim sword. Checking Alarrah now, I see I still have on the ring that I’d double-enchanted with Fortify Light Armor and Fortify One-Handed. So that was helpful too!)
My stalhrim armor was already enchanted so I couldn’t slap new enchantments on it. And even though I got it improved up to Legendary, it still wasn’t as much collective protection as my dragons armor. So I kept that on, and with the stalhrim sword ready to be my primary weapon, I went back to Karstaag’s cavern for round two.
This time, I got him. What worked:
- Dropping a Fire Rune in front of his throne to be ready to explode when he spawned
- Having the fire spiders queued up in the left hand to be ready to throw while I wailed on him with my stalhrim sword
- Throwing the Call of Valor shout to get in a hero of Sovngarde to help serve as a distraction so I could keep fighting; the hero didn’t last very long but he didn’t need to
- Lots and lots and lots of hitting him with the stalhrim sword—because the enchantments meant that as soon as Karstaag was on fire, he’d take additional damage on top of that. So the trick was getting him to be on fire and keeping him that way
Mind you, he still put up a hell of a fight. Multiple times, he hurled me down through the passage to the lower caverns. But he did not in fact kill me. And after a few times of that, I was finally able to come back and take him out. Whew.
I also made a point of telling both Lydia and Clanky to wait at the back of the cavern to try to keep them out of immediate harm’s way. Lydia is a protected NPC and can’t be killed out from under me at this point (because she’s my spouse), but she can be badly damaged, and I didn’t want her to have to deal with that if I could avoid it!
Likewise, I didn’t want Clanky to get stomped. So this helped them survive the fight, too! And afterwards, I just had to remember to tell them to actually follow me again so they wouldn’t be marooned in the cavern. Which I had to remind myself to do, when I caught myself wondering where the hell they were, and then went derp and found them back in the cavern where we’d fought the giant.
After the fight, I also tried summoning Durnehviir again just to try it properly. This time I got it to work right! And it was really rather charming, because he showed up, happily taught me the first word of his Soul Tear Shout, and then spent a few minutes just roaring around the sky. Which was really rather delightful in a YAY I’M IN THE SKY AGAIN I GET TO FLY IN THE CORRECT AND PROPER SKY RAAAAAAAAAR kind of way.
Then he disappeared—because we both already knew my ability to summon him back to Tamriel would be temporary. But he was happy even for those few minutes and I’m glad I did that! And I’ll have to see if I can summon him a couple more times to get the other words of the Shout before I finish up Alarrah’s run.
I’m pretty much down to the wire at this point. I am not out of things to do in Skyrim as a whole, or even on Solstheim specifically—but I am running out of things that seem appropriate to do with Alarrah.
The various other factions I haven’t explored yet (the Thieves Guild, the Companions, the Dark Brotherhood) all seem like things that are not appropriate to the narrative I’ve had play out in my head for her. Likewise, fighting on either side of the war. There’s plenty of potential in all of those areas for me to have fun, it’s just that it’d probably work better for me to pursue them with a different character.
Likewise, while there are some tasty higher level quests to do with the mage college, those are things that don’t unlock until you have magic skills up in the 90’s, and none of Alarrah’s magic is anywhere near that high. So the higher level mage college stuff is probably stuff I’m not going to get at unless I do a character more heavily invested in magic.
And there’s an NPC called the Ebony Warrior who, like Karstaag, is supposed to be one of the most powerful opponents in the game. But the Ebony Warrior doesn’t even show up until you’re at level 80.
As of this writing, Alarrah is only level 62. And I’m not sure it’d be fun for me as a player to put her through 18 more levels of advancement on side quests, just to get to the point where I can unlock the Ebony Warrior. Not that the side quests wouldn’t be fun necessarily—but a lot of the point of the side quests in Skyrim is loot and gold and tasty enchanted weapons, none of which Alarrah really needs any more! She’s swimming in way, way more gold, weapons, and armor than she will ever need. She can outfit an entire regiment of soldiers all by herself!
All of which boils down to this: I’ll likely be taking on Miraak in the next session. Because if I can beat a frost giant who’s level 90 with proper prep, I should be more than ready for Miraak now.