Kendar's Ascension - Insight
Kendar's Ascension - A Skyrim Mod
As part of a course at Futuregames, we were tasked with either starting or following up on a personal project and document the results at the end of two and a half weeks, It could be anything that you've wanted to make, and so I decided to challenge myself and try to create a mod for a franchise that I love, in a game engine I've never used.
Kendar's Ascension is a quest mod for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim that I wanted to create to further my knowledge in level design working with an already established framework, to prove to myself that I can change my habits on a dime and adapt to technology that is new to me, and most importantly: work on narrative design and level art to flesh out my competence in level design.
Production time :
Skryim Creation Kit
This page will provide a full walkthrough of the quest with my insight as to why the level turned out how it did.
If you're more curious about the narrative or want to read a blog where I did a short weekly update, please click the links below!
Walkthrough and insight
The quest starts in a location in the overworld called Mixwater Mill, a place commonly used as a start for new quest modders as it is one of the few houses in the game that is uninhabited and not in ruins. Upon arriving there, the Dragonborn is greeted by a new NPC who goes by the name Nirana Brightwater. Nirana tells them about a danger that is brewing in Hjaalmarch, and that the only way to stop it is to go there is to acquire a tome from a den of necromancers; the Order of Life as they shall come to be known later, who are hiding underground an abandoned shack in the area. The player's journal is updated if they choose to accept the quest, and the quest is added along with navigation towards the abandoned shack. They are also given a key to a trap door that leads to the hideout.
Location of the hideout
The location of the Necromancers' den is a familiar one to many players of the game, but they rarely arrive the area from the outside. The abandoned shack that the hideout is underneath is one used by the Dark Brotherhood for their initiation of the Dragonborn, to which the player is transported directly to the inside during regular instances.
I felt that using this area as their hiding place made sense both within the world and for hiding the quest location in a place a player would usually not tread without having a reason to go there. The entrance is locked and must be unlocked with a key in order to enter as a precaution to players who do accidentally happen upon it. Hopefully, this would also instil some sort of interest from the player's side into this mysterious trap door in the middle of nowhere. The in-universe reasoning for this choice is because it is linked with something as occult as the Dark Brotherhood, and implies more than regular necromancy, as well as the area would most likely be shrouded in rumors by inhabitants of Hjaalmarch with warnings of danger, making it a good hiding place in the necromancers' eyes.
The hall is revealed to be another hidden ancient Nord crypt, where the necromancers have effectively made their hideout not too long before the Dragonborn enters their halls. There is still lots of rubble and the Order is still cleaning out and making for a place of worship worthy of their God-to-be.
Side note: When creating this space, I took a look at some old interviews and talks by Bethesda employees of how they go about designing areas or locations, where Joel Burgess mentions in a GDC talk where he mentions how they try to come up with a location's backstory before going too deep into level design or level art, and tried my hand at doing a light version of this given our time constraints
The entrance shows signs that the location is interconnected with a cave, and has been abandoned for some time until very recently, housing lots of spider webs, rubble piles and broken pieces of architecture. There are no enemies in this hall, as is to be expected by an entrance area of a level.
Outfitting / guard room
The guards' outfitting room is their immediate defensive position in case of an attack, and holds some weapons and armor should they need more protection than their magic and robes can provide, and it also contains magical items for defense as well as tables, chairs and some books for the guards to not be completely miserable during their watch. The player will only encounter one patrolling enemy in this, which is moving between three patrol points and will be spending some time at each point to let the player sneak up on them or past them if they play stealthily, or let them circle close to the door or further away from it in case the player has a preference to close or medium ranged combat.
The area also provides a meager reward in form of a leveled chest (meaning it generates its content based on the player character's level) as well as a few low-level tomes and weapons that serve more of a purpose for level art and narrative implications than a direct reward. But it is there for the taking if you are one of the hoarders that Bethesda games tend to turn players into.
The room is connected to two other exits. One is an optional room that provides some more narrative context to the lair, and the other progresses deeper into the lair itself.
The formerly mentioned optional room is a torture chamber. Its lock needs to be picked to enter, and the chamber connects visually with another room underneath it, visible through the big grate in the floor that's covered in bodies. The torture chamber holds one enemy necromancer with the potential of waking one of the previous torture victims, and is more likely to see the player when they enter directly, proving for a slightly more challenging fight.
The rewards in this room are only whatever is found on the bodies and on the necromancer. The main purpose of the room however, is to pose a question. Something along the lines of: Sure, there are a lot of torture rooms in medieval themed dungeons, but what's with the grate and the room underneath?
Exiting the latterly mentioned exit out of the outfitting room, the player will enter a narrow hall circling around and downward to create some vertical movement and sense of progression even though it's only a floor down. The player exits a hallway into a laboratory with two necromancers, one of which moves between two patrol points and one standing atop an altar, praying. This room serves a multitude of purposes, as it provides a small combat challenge that can be approached similarly to the outfitting room only with two enemies, it provides some rewards in the form of alchemy ingredients, some tomes and soul gems, but most importantly, it answers a question that the player may have asked themselves. What's with the grate and the room underneath? The woman praying atop an alter is stood right underneath the grate connecting what is now revealed as the lab and the torture chamber, rewarding the inquisitive players a little for their exploration and setting up some story to the lair. There is blood dripping from the grates above and onto the altar, implying that it is part of their necromantic rituals.
The only way to go forward is into the war room, where there are multiple necromancers in a larger, more open space. Seeing as these enemies focus more on ranged magics, the player fighting them on their terms now, although that may also fit the player's playstyle as well. The room includes a few larger physical movement obstacles such as tables and other furniture where the enemies or the player can circle around or stay behind as well, providing the slightest bit of tactics to the encounter.
This room has more to it than first meets the eye, as it has some rewards hanging on the wall, such as a decent, enchanted sword and staff, some tomes and alchemy or cooking ingredients. The biggest reward is unlocking an alternate path leading out of the room. This can be done with high lock picking skills, or by returning with a key that the player can acquire in the Sleeping Quarters, the room that is situated the deepest into this part of the lair.
The war room is where the necromancers gather to discuss current plans and contains a central table with a map of Skyrim with pin markers stuck onto it, as well as a bundle of unopened scrolls meant to be letters from other members of the Order around the province. It is also where the Order cook their meals, and where they gather to eat, as they spend a lot of time in the room.
Moving on through the door that isn't locked, the player moves one floor down and enters a library. The library contains a puzzle in the form of a simple riddle. There is a quite obvious "secret" door leading to where the map marker shows the quest objective, and a pull chain to its immediate right.
If the player is unobservant and pulls the chain, the nearby (and clearly visible) poison darts traps will trigger and hit the player if they are still stood in front of the pull chain upon its activation. The real way to open the secret passage is to look around and read the riddle on a book-stand in the far center of the room.
The riddle reads as follows:
Keen is the Eye of Kendar,
It guides us through the fray.
Delve through the Tomes' Teachings,
And you shall also find our Way.
It hints at the solution being that the player must look around for a pressure plate in one of the book cases and remove every single book from the shelf in order for the pressure plate to trigger and open the door that leads into the sanctum.
This room's main purpose is of course the puzzle, and does therefore not contain a combat encounter or monetary rewards for the player. The challenge is the puzzle, and the reward is the solution and progression.
Moving on through the other door from the library, the player will enter a room that is the furthest into the lair and is therefore still being cleaned out by the necromancers as it has multiple larger cavernous elements poking through walls and ceiling. The room contains four enemies, and the largest reward is the previously mentioned key to the locked exit from the war room. This path is added for those who rather want to go on a rampage and just get the thing they came for and get out. It is therefore an alternative to picking the lock in the war room or solving the riddle, by just moving through the lair and killing enemies to take their loot, they will acquire the key that will take them through the storage room and into the sanctum through another path.
Storage and alternate sanctum entrance
The storage room is filled with smaller monetary rewards in forms of generated loot from leveled chests, some weapons up on racks, and the more valuable jewelry in some glass cases. This is where the stealthy character gets another reward for playing a usually more intricate style. If they are able to pick the locks to the cases of course, as they are on a relatively high difficulty level.
The room houses some unwanted guests, a bunch of frostbite spiders. The player will have to battle a few of these in the room and beyond through a cavern hallway to enter the sanctum. They are meant more as a nuisance than anything else, but the idea is that these spiders are breeding in the caves, and the necromancers had sealed off certain areas of the lair to hold back the spiders. Upon exiting the cavern hallway, the player enters the sanctum, where their objective lays before them.
Depending on where the player enters the sanctum, they will have different views, but the content of the room remains the same. I will assume they enter through the main path by solving the riddle.
The player is greeted by a vast, open cave chamber with raised platforms and walkways to either side, framing the objective in a ray of light through cracks in the ceiling. The room houses a few enemies, all at a distance, giving them a good line of sight and possibilities for ranged attacks if they spot the player.
Side note: if the player enters from the alternate path, the view is similar, but less grand, and giving a small advantage in combat as the player enters from the side, giving less of an opportunity for the enemies to notice them the moment they enter, regardless of playstyle.
After having dispatched of the enemies, the objective is there for the taking, and upon removing the book from its pedestal, a gate up on a ledge directly opposite the player opens, and a path leads from it down to the player's left, where another gate opens moments after the first to let the player notice and follow the path with their eyes before opening. Upon entering this newly opened gate, following the ledges and exiting the caver, the player enters the path to the dungeon's exit.
If the player either falls from any of the ledges or bridges in the cavern, there is a chance that they will end up on the bottom floor, where there are a few frostbite spiders guarding what used to be a small campsite at the bottom of the cave, presumably to some thief or wanderer who was killed or forced out by the necromancers.
Following on through the opened gate from the sanctum, the player is presented with the fastest way out. Although they are welcome to exit the way they first came in, it is just slightly slower and offers no new content. This exit follows the principle that many, if not most of all Bethesda games' dungeons, caves or structural quest locations also follow, in that there is a way to loop back to the entrance through a path you didn't, and perhaps couldn't use to get in.
It starts in a small cavern hallway, where the player comes across a few frostbite spiders feasting on a dead cave troll. These are quickly dispatched, and the player can continue into a cavernous room that serves as a place of tranquility in relation to the rest of the dungeon. It is filled with more colorful plant life that is allowed to grow because of a more abundant water source, and has some pleasant lighting from a lit brazier and a gleam of light from a hole in the wall above and behind from which they enter. In the corner of the room there is another leveled chest as well as a few skeletal bodies in the other corners, just to add some clutter and small piece of narrative.
It is meant to be rather short lived, a fast breath of fresh air as they leave on through the room, entering another short cavernous hallway and enter into a more run-down room architecturally built as part of the earlier traversed ruins. In this room there is a pull chain with no poison dart traps in sight, and upon pulling it, a door opens and reveals that the player has circled back to the first room they encountered when they first entered the lair. When looking at this entrance from the other side before opening it, it is the wall covered in spiderwebs, vines, and hidden partially behind some rubble on the floor.
Returning the Tome
From here on out, the player is free to return to Mixwater Mill and return the tome, gaining some gold as a reward for their trouble. In and of itself, this may seem like a meager reward, as it is not meant to be a hugely monetary profitable endeavor. The real reward lies with Nirana's reaction and demeanor during the last meeting, and the Dragonborn's resonation in their journal afterwards. The Dragonborn states that Nirana seemed somewhat distant through her perceived happiness, and that their paths will highly likely cross again. With this, the player is promised more content, which in turn will let their character grow and gain more riches, if that is what they desire.
I thought of this project as a first step in a multi-part questline, and wanted therefore to end it with this small hint. In the event of an expansion to my project however, the next quest would obviously be handled and introduced as if there's been a long time since the player finished the quest, as this tends to happen with games as massive as the Bethesda games.