Let’s Illustrate Morrowind Part 10: Maybe I’m Overthinking This

Having narrowly avoid assasination Fault goes to spend a few more days grinding conjuration experience. Halfway through a second assassin tries to kill her with the same results as the first. Fortunately Fault discovers that assassin armor sells for a small fortune. Maybe we don’t want to stop them from targeting us after all…

Anyways Fault takes some of that gold and pays a mage guild buddy to teach her three levels of alchemy for reasons that will soon make perfect sense.

Fault then casts one final spell, levels up conjuration again and TADA! new character level.

You level up every time you earn ten points combined between any of your major and minor skills (I thought it was only major and now regret some of my skill choices. Oh well, live and learn).

Time to explain the Morrowind leveling system, which is a mix of several really good ideas spoiled by a couple really bad ones. The same system was used in Oblivion which is why I know so much about it despite still knowing very little about Morrowind.

As you’ve probably noticed you improve skills either by using them or by paying a tutor. This is nifty since it feels realistic to get better at things you practice.

Earning ten levels in your class skills causes your character to level up. This is a nice subtle way to encourage people to focus on class skills without forcing them into it.

When you level up you get extra health based on your endurance as well as a chance to add a bonus to three of your stats. These bonuses range from +1 to +5 depending on which skills you used during your last level. This is cool because it makes sense someone who spent a level at learning how to use swords would get more strength while someone who spent a level casting spells would get intelligence.

Now here’s the bad part: Once you level up the counter that keeps track of stat growth gets reset.

So earn too few skill points and you get a weak level with bad stat bonuses, which means you might hit max level before maxing out your stats.

But earn too many skill points and you wind up having wasted bonuses, which means you might run out of skills for earning stat bonuses before you hit max level.

Either way your character is permanently crippled.

So to avoid this you want to earn just enough skills to increase three stats by the max of +5 without wasting any skill points. Anything else puts you at risk of permanently crippling your character.

If you spent more time planning your last character build than you did planning your last semester of college you might be an RPG gamer.

If you spent more time planning your last character build than you did planning your last semester of college you might be an RPG gamer.

That’s why Fault has been using a spear. The spear skill is linked to endurance so by making sure we earned exactly ten skill points we unlocked +5 to endurance.

After we hit that point we then forced a level up by grinding Conjuring. Since we had accidentally (but naturally) earned a few points of Athletics and Unarmored we only needed six or so points of conjuration to level up.

This is a problem though because that isn’t enough Conjuration to earn a full +5 to intelligence, which Fault really needs in order to expand her mana pool. That’s why right before leveling up she went and got a bunch of training in Alchemy which also keys off of intelligence.

She then leveled up and as you can see had access to +5 endurance from her carefully monitored spear skills, +5 to intellignece from her carefully monitored conjuration and alchemy and +3 to speed from her accidental levels in unarmored and athletics.

Of these options she grabbed the two +5s she really wanted but skipped out on speed in exchange for +1 to luck. There are no luck skills so that’s as much as she’ll ever get during a level. But get it she will because Fault is still a Luck Knight at heart.

Now I can’t promise every level will be as good as this one, but I am going to try and max out Fault’s endurance as early as possible and get at least +3s and +4s for the rest of the game. This will mostly involve focusing my gameplay on just one or two skills at a time.

Let’s Illustrate Morrowind Part 9: Exploiting The Limits Of The Engine

Between the training at the guild and actual combat from doing side quests Fault has raised her spear proficiency by a whole ten points now, which really contrasts against the fact that her conjuration has barely gone up. This is a problem for our build. Fortunately it’s an easy one to solve.

First we Fault heads to the mage’s free dormitory. Then she spends all of her mana summoning every piece of demonic weapon and armor she can. Then she takes a nap to fill up her mana and does it all again. Every casting gives her a few points towards leveling up conjuration and the gains really start stacking up after a day or two.

In Skyrim they removed this by making it so that spells only got stronger if used in the presence of danger, but to be honest I think the idea of letting people become better at something by practicing in a safe space is very realistic. Sort of boring, but nice nonetheless.

On the other hand, the mage’s guild may not be as safe as Fault thought because she is rudely awoken from one of her naps by an assassin! And since being woken up prevents mana regeneration she’s basically helpless.

Discretion is the better part of valor so rather than trying to fist fight a trained killer Fault takes advantage of the fact that Morrowind enemies can’t transfer between zones and leaves the building to hide out at the Fighter’s guild instead. Just long enough to regain all her mana. Then she charges back into the mage’s guild, summons her arsenal and kills her killer.

This is admittedly not the most dramatic way to fight an assassin but it works.

This is admittedly not the most dramatic way to fight an assassin but it works.

Afterwards the game suggest we probably ought to tell a guard about the what happened. Fault does but the guard’s only response is to tell her she’s probably doomed if the famous “Dark Brotherhood” is after her. But even so it wouldn’t hurt to talk to their commander, who is currently stationed at Ebonheart.

I don’t know where or what Ebonheart is and for some reason the normally extensive conversation system doesn’t list it as a topic of interest. Is it a town? A city? A tavern? Who knows! We can worry about that after we finish our conjuration training.

Let’s Illustrate Morrowind Part 8: Cheap Source Of Protein

Our next fighrer guild task is a bit harder: We need to dispose of a couple poachers that have set up shop in the local egg mine. That’s right, egg mine. Apparently Morrowind is home to a species of giant ant-monsters that hollow out mountains and fill them with giant eggs. The eggs are very nutritious and can be safely mined as long as you don’t take too many or attack any of the worker insects. These eggs basically form the backbone of the region’s food chain and export economy. World building!

Ant farms are pretty hardcore in Morrowind

Ant farms are pretty hardcore in Morrowind

Anyways, the hardest part of stopping the poachers is just tracking them down through the winding insect filled mazes. Once Fault finds them it’s a simple matter to don her demon helm, call up a spear and stab in the name of justice.

Let’s Illustrate Morrowind Part 7: With A Little Help From My Fiends

Fault has finally become a full fledged journeyman mage and her first task is to track down a couple of rogue wizards and convince them to make up with the guild. If they don’t we have to murder them. Fault’s beginning to wonder whether this whole mage guild thing is really for her and heads next door to see if the fighter’s guild is hiring. They’re basically jumping at the chance to bring a protagonist on board and give us our first assignment: To kill some giant cave rats that have invaded the home of poor old lady.

Unfortunately fighting two rats at once is more than poor Fault can handle without armor. I guess maybe this whole gimmick was just too much…

Ha! Just kidding. You didn’t really think I would have gotten this far without a plan, did you?

Back at the Mage’s Guild we track down someone who is selling “Bound Helm” and “Bound Boots” which let us summon a couple pieces of demon armor. They only last for sixty seconds and they’re less than half of a full set of armor but summoned demon armor is very good and even just a few pieces let us almost ignore the attacks of the rats as we summoned spear them to death.

How does the spell know what size boots to summon?

How does the spell know what size boots to summon?

Let’s Illustrate Morrowind Part 6: Maybe A Little Too Realistic

Back at the mage’s guidl Fault’s mentor next asks us to sabotage the research of a rival wizard. Seems kind of sketchy but the guild made these assignments so there’s no point in arguing. Plus it’s not a very hard quest. Fault just waits for the rival to wander away from their desk and then sneaks a fake soul gem into her pile of research. After that Fault reports back to her mentor who now wants us to go out and collect flowers for the next stage of her research.

So off Fault goes to collect some plants. But when she gets back it turns out someone has stolen all of her mentor’s research! Our final quest for is to track down her missing papers so she can finally make journeyman. You can actually read her report before she submits it and insultingly enough she takes full credit for all of Fault’s legwork. On the other hand the guild master seems to know what’s going on because she promotes Fault to journeyman right along with her mentor.

I have mixed feelings about this entire quest line. On the one hand it is extremely believable that a wannabe mage would start their career playing assistant to a more experienced wizard. On the other hand, it’s really boring and it doesn’t actually make you a better wizard since you don’t have to cast any spells to complete it.

Given Fault's painfully low intelligence score I can't imagine she's enjoying being a wizard very much

Given Fault’s painfully low intelligence score I can’t imagine she’s enjoying being a wizard very much

Let’s Illustrate Morrowind Part 5: Couldn’t Hit The Broad Side Of A Silt Strider

As the newest apprentice mage in the guild Fault has been assigned the tedious task of hiking out to a certain swamp and bringing back some alchemy research materials. But before she heads out on that quest she chats with the local mages until she find someone selling conjuration spells. Fault’s demon dagger is nice but she’d really prefer to be using Bound Spear, which sells for a modest 60 coins.

Spear in hand (or more accurately in head) it’s time for a field trip. Fault follows the path of the nearby river until it lets out in a swamp full of mushrooms. It barely takes any time at all to collect research material for Fault’s senpai with the only moment of excitement being a sudden giant rat attack that mostly proves Fault really probably shouldn’t be using a spear.

Morrowind mechanics time! In Morrowind hurting an enemy with a weapon is actually a two step process. Step one is to use your action gamer skills to hit your target. Step two then involves the game looking at your combat stats, rolling some virtual dice and then deciding whether or not your hit really counts. Since Fault has no training in spears and very low agility she constantly winds up missing even though I, as a player, am doing a perfectly good job at hitting my targets.

My mage build is bad at physical combat? Who could have seen that coming?

My mage build is bad at physical combat? Who could have seen that coming?

From Oblivion on they “fixed” this by making all hits depend purely on player skill and using character stats only for calculating damage. That means a hit is always a hit even if it doesn’t do much damage. While that’s probably a more satisfying system I must say that Morrowind’s “hit for a chance roll at hitting” really isn’t bad as long as you know what to expect and can tell the difference between missing because you’re too far away and need to correct your aim and missing because you “hit” but have too low of weapon accuracy to actually connect.

Still, it’s not much fun watching Fault useless flail in combat so on the way back to the mages guild she stops by the fighters guild and spends most her gold on five points of spear training. We’re pretty much broke again but who cares? We weren’t planning on using that money for equipment anyways.

Let’s Illustrate Morrowind Part 4: A Distinct Lack Of Patriotism

Fault has tracked down the address of Caius and finally get’s to meet the man himself. It turns out he’s an intimidating shirtless man who seems pretty grumpy until Fault hands over the emperor’s papework. Caius reads through it and explains that apparently the emporer realized we were the game’s protagonist because he wants us to be trained as members of the Blades, his elite troupe of problem solving super-spies.

In Caius's defense Morrowind is an active volcanic island and probably both hot and humid all the time.

In Caius’s defense Morrowind is an active volcanic island and probably both hot and humid all the time.

At this point Caius asks if we’re ready to swear loyalty to him as our teacher and commander. To Bethesda’s credit we’re allowed to say “No” and just wander off. We’ll probably have to come back here later to progress the plot but for now there’s more interesting stuff to do.

Like joining the Mage’s guild!

They let us join just for asking but nobody important actually wants to talk to us. Instead we’re assigned as an assistant to a young Khajit mage who needs us to go collect mushrooms so she can finish writing her Journeyman dissertation.

Maybe we should have joined the blades after all…

Let’s Illustrate Morrowind Part 3: Amazing What You Can Domesticate

Having earned a little pocket money by clearing out a bandit cave it’s time to head back to the customs office. Turns out I forgot to actually ask directions on where to find this Caius fellow Fault is supposed to deliver her documents to and Morrowind’s complete lack of objective markers means I can’t just follow a glowing arrow on my minimap. Instead you have to actually talk to people and get instructions and look for road signs and landmarks. Almost like real life!

Except in real life everyone has GPS enabled smart phones now so all things considered objective tracking minimaps have become 100% realistic. Welcome to the future!

Anyways, a friendly guard tells Fault she could reach the town where Caius lives by spending a few hours marching north through various swamps but that he’d personally just use the Stilt Strider and avoid all the hassle and potential muggings.

Silt Striders are terrifying three story insect monsters that have apparently been trained to act as taxis. The local handler charges a mere 14 coins to take us to Balmora so off we go.

Seeing your first silt strider is really the moment where you realize Morrowind isn't just another Fantasy Europe adventure.

Seeing your first silt strider is really the moment where you realize you’re not in Fantasy Europe anymore.

Once there we head to the local tavern and ask around until we get the home address of Caius.

Just want to take a moment here to talk about the conversation UI in Morrowind. Instead of a normal dialogue tree with two or three options you have an entire dialogue panel full of dozens of topics you can bring up. Since this game is mostly text based with minimal voice acting the developers were free to stuff a TON of side conversations and world building trivia into every NPC. It’s pretty nice, even if it does turn out that 95% of the world will say the exact same thing when asked for trivia about a certain location or historical event.

Let’s Illustrate Morrowind Part 2: Bandit Driven Adventure Economy

With all of her paperwork properly signed in triplicate and the emperor’s documents safely stuck in her inventory Fault is finally released into the wide world of Morrowind, free to do as she pleases. Of course she’s only level 1 and I’ve never actually played the game before so what she pleases is to talk to everyone and beg for advice.

Our first big tip comes from the local merchant who apparently instantly recognizes Fault as a video game protagonist because he wastes no time in suggesting that we might enjoy going to a nearby cave and killing the thugs that live there.

I was a little worried about what a level 1 semi-wizard could do against hardened criminals but there’s only three of them and they’re spaced far enough apart you can kill one and then head back to town to rest up if you want. So fault imagines herself a demonic dagger into existence and stabs some bad people (having Conjuration as a major skill means we start with the Bound Dagger spell. Only lasts 60 seconds but that’s enough for one fight).

Once the thugs are dead we release their slaves and loot all their chests and crates which contain a surprisingly diverse mixture of potions, weapons of all types, light armors, heavy armors and spell scrolls. Why it’s almost as if this entire mini-dungeon was specifically designed for handing out starting equipment to new players!

But Fault’s on a no equipment run so she just sells all of it. Well, most of it. One of the thieves we looted had nicer pants than Fault along with a cool looking shirt and that’s not the sort of thing you can just pass up. Clothing items in Morrowing change your appearance but provide no actual equipment bonuses so rest assured I’m not breaking my gimmick rules.

It's not actually murder if you're a hero and they're bandits. Everyone knows that.

It’s not actually murder if you’re a hero and they’re bandits. Everyone knows that.

Let’s Illustrate Morrowind Part 1: An Older Elder Scrolls

It’s time for another Let’s Illustrate, in which a programmer with no artistic talent (that’s me) tries to teach himself basic cartooning by keeping an illustrated diary of a videogame adventure and then embarrasses himself by posting it on the Internet.

Our target this time is the Elder Scrolls, but we aren’t going to be playing the mega-ultra-popular Skyrim. Instead we’re going to jump back a couple generations and give Morrowind a shot (available now on GOG). Because while Skyrim is the most successful Elder Scrolls game of all time series veterans often insist that Morrowind was actually the “best” game even if its graphics were extremely rough and its mechanics a bit choppy.

So let’s boot the game up and see what happens!

Morrowind begins with an ominous vision about prophecies and heroes at which point a dramatic remix of the epic Elder Scrolls main theme kicks in just in time for you to walk around the inside of a boat and fill out some paperwork. Now I suppose this is technically more fun than filling out paperwork while not listening to an epic fantasy orchestra but listening to demon fighting music whilst working your way through customs still makes me laugh.

Anyways, in classic Elder Scrolls tradition you begin the game as a prisoner. For some unknown reason the emperor himself has decided to have you transferred to Morrowind and then given your freedom on the condition that you deliver a handful of sealed docents to a certain man in the north.

Of course the guards aren’t going to hand over the emperor’s precious documents until they’re sure of who you are which means it’s character creation time!

If this game also turns out to have a tax auditing minigame I quit.

If this game also turns out to have a tax auditing minigame I quit.

I have no imagination so I’m just going to duplicate my Dark Souls 3 character by making our character a woman and calling her Fault.

For race we’ll be going with Nord because they have the best starting endurance which translates to more health throughout the game. In Morrowind health boosts are NOT retroactive so if you want high HP you have to focus on getting as much endurance as you can as early as you can.

Next up is class. We’ll be using the custom option so we can design our own interesting gimmick build. The custom build option is also necessary if you want to get the most out of Morrowind’s weird leveling system (but we can talk about that letter).

Today’s gimmick is: No equipment run. Fault will not use any weapons, armor, potions or scrolls. We may eventually use a few enchanted pieces of jewelry but that’s only because I’ve heard Morrowind’s enchanting system is ridiculous and I don’t want to lock myself out of that entirely.

To actually create our new class we have to choose two favored attributes, five major skills which control our leveling and five minor skills which I think just get some boosts. (Note from the future: WRONG! Major and minor both influence leveling which means I’m going to make a huge mistake in three more paragraphs.)

The attributes are easy: Endurance to help maximize long-term health and Luck because this is Fault we’re talking about.

For major skills I choose all the things Fault needs to survive without equipment. Conjuration to give her temporary weapons and warriors, Adbjuration for defense and utility spells, Restoration to keep her healthy and finally Unarmored and Unarmed fighting styles so in a pinch she can fall back on punching people.

For minor skills I grab most of the other magic talents along with accrobatics and athletics because they are thematically appropriate for a self-made sorceror-monk but also because I’m an impatient gamer who really wants to max out his speed as soon as feasible.

Class complete it’s time to choose Fault’s sign. I go with “The Lady” because it gives a 25 point boost to endurance and as mentioned we want as much of that early on as we can get. (All in all Fault totals out at 75 out of 100 endurance which is just about perfect).

And that’s it! Time to play the game.