Skyrim Hearthfire diary: The Beginner's Guide to Homesteading and Mass Murder

Christopher Livingston at

The air fills with the screams of the dying and the streets run crimson with the blood of the dead. As arrows whistle past me, I brutally hack through the neck of a Stormcloak soldier, and his head tumbles away like a dropped melon. My wife and companion, her sword coated with gore, sprints off to plunge her blade into the belly of a distant archer. High above, my summoned dragon wheels about in the sky, lands beside me with a crash, and spits a tremendous gout of fire onto several more city guards, setting a wooden walkway ablaze in the process. Amid the carnage, as I decapitate my next victim, a single thought rises in my head:

It didn't have to be this way. I just wanted to build a house.

Meet Braul, my level 31 Orc, Dragonborn, leader of the Companions, savior of Skyrim, destroyer of The Dark Brotherhood, hero, and all-around swell guy. He's powerful, wealthy, and owns several houses, but today he and his wife, Mjoll, are looking for something new, something much more than a house. They're looking for a home.

With the new Hearthfire add-on installed, I fire up The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and begin playing in the fashion of anyone who has installed a Bethesda add-on: by sort of standing around in the world and wondering exactly how this new DLC will present itself in the game. I know I now have the ability to purchase land and build a home, and I know that when you buy stuff, it's usually in a city or town, so I fast-travel to Whiterun to see if the DLC will pop in and greet me. Sure enough, a half-naked courier jogs up and hands me a note from Tekla, the Steward to the Jarl of Falkreath, inviting me to buy some land. I fast-travel to Falkreath, and while absentmindedly devouring the soul of the dragon I just I killed outside, I chat with her about the plot of land, and buy it for 5,000 gold.  She helpfully starts giving me directions, but I just run out of the room. Relax, lady, I just consumed a dragon's soul in front of you, do I look like the kind of Orc who needs a lot of hand-holding?

I can eat dragon souls and chat about real estate. It's called multi-tasking.

A few dead bandits and one dead cave bear later, Mjoll and I reach our small plot of land northeast of Falkreath. Nearby, there's a chest, a couple tables, an anvil, and a book called The Beginner's Guide to Homesteading, which I don't actually bother to read. Look, I'm the Dragonborn: I saved the world without ever reading a book or even letting anyone complete an entire sentence. I think I can handle building a small house without doing my homework. I use the drafting table to select the small house layout, scoop out the contents of the chest, which contains, somehow, enough stone to build the foundation, then hit my hammer a couple times on the carpenter's bench. Just like that, I've got the foundation built.

I think this house will be just big enough to keep my spare armor in.

While admiring the shiny new base of my future home, I notice a nearby lumber pile, and beside it, a wood chopping block. Okay, I think I have this whole process figured out. You get iron, you whack it on the anvil. You get lumber, you whack it on the chopping block. Then you whack everything together on the carpenter's bench. It's a whack-based home building system. I start trying to whack my lumber.

Thing is, I realize I have I have no woodcutter's axe with which to whack the lumber on the chopping block. How is that even possible? Oh, right, because I'm a wealthy, accomplished adventurer, not some poverty-stricken townie who needs to split wood for pennies. Even if I picked up a woodcutter's axe at some point, it would have been sold by now, or dropped in some dungeon to make room in my inventory, or possibly thrown into the ever-growing piles of worthless junk that live on the floors of my many houses.

Well, how hard can it be to find a woodcutter's axe? There are chopping blocks and lumber mills and stores all over the place. I fast-travel back to Falkreath, pop into the local shop, and find they are fresh out of woodcutter's axes. Next, I try the nearest lumbermill, where I find a chopping block, but no axe. I visit Dawnstar next, where I talk to both the blacksmith and his wife, neither of whom carry the item.

Okay, this is taking a bit longer than I expected.