The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Mod of the Week: Undeath, for Skyrim

Christopher Livingston at

Necromancy has a bad rap in Skyrim, which is a little weird. With the mountains of corpses the Dragonborn leaves in his wake, you’d think bringing a few of them back from the dead wouldn’t be such a big deal. Undeath, created by modder Antioch08, tasks you with snuffing out a teeming cabal of  necromancers... but it also gives you the option of continuing their evil work, learning their dark secrets, and performing a ritual to transform yourself into a powerful Lich capable of commanding an army of the undead. Which path did I choose? Here's a hint. That image above? That's me.

(A couple notes up front: your character needs to be level thirty or above to play this mod, and it uses assets from the official Dawnguard and Dragonborn DLC, so you’ll need both of those. You're also going to need your enchanting skill maxed out, and you should have almost 300 Magicka to really enjoy the fruits of this mod.)

Slaughtering a bunch of innocents? But... that's MY trademark move.

The mod begins with a request to investigate a missing (dead) convoy of Vigilants of Stendarr (those goodie-goodies who stroll around in robes looking for evil-doers). After searching bodies at the scene of the ambush, I discover one of the attackers was kind enough to carry his orders with him, nicely written down on paper, just as you'd expect from a super-secret cabal determined to hide their existence from the world at large. This clue leads me to a secluded tower, where one particular necromancer has left a few journals detailing his plans to unlock a dark ritual that will allow him to become a powerful Lich. He’s also sent some followers on several missions across Skyrim to collect important objects he’ll need to complete the ritual.

Since they already dug him up... couldn't hurt to open the coffin for a little peek. Right?

After tracking down one of these groups, who are digging up a dead priest with the intent on cutting out his heart, the mod gives me a choice. I can rebury the priest and go on with my mission to extinguish this evil plot, which seems like the sensible thing to do. OR. I can, y'know, finish digging up the priest and cut out his heart and stick it in my pocket, thus completing the necromancers mission, only without the necromancers, because I just killed them.

I take the heart. Why not? The hard work is already done, and the guy is already dead, and I've been meaning to dabble in necromancy anyway.

A human skull in the pot, throw in a couple mushrooms... baby, you've got a stew goin'!

After tracking down and killing another group of acolytes, I find that they were brewing a weird potion up top of a hill. They’ve done most of the work already, and the recipe is nearby as well. Again, I'm given the option to dump their cauldron on the ground, putting an end to this evil business! But, I hate to see a meal go to waste, and most of the ingredients are close by... what the heck! Soup's on!

The commute is a bitch, but the necromancers must pay very little rent out here.

Eventually, I've killed all the necromancer dweebs and completed their tasks for them, because they're all to busy being killed by me to do it themselves. Now that I've got all their leader's precious belongings, it only stands to reckon that I hunt him down and kill him too, thus ending his evil plot. And beginning mine.

Did I come at a bad time?

I find the leader deep underground in a massive network of ruins and tunnels, and mow my way through his remaining assistants and skeletons before hacking him to death. If I were interested in putting an end to his plans, I guess the mod would be over right then and there. However, I’m not looking to just kill a bunch of hooded weirdoes for the fun of it. Imma be a Lich!

Becoming a Lich is not exactly easy, however. The head necromancer is dead, but I need to figure out exactly what he was doing before I can continue his work. I read his notes and scour the massive dungeon, eventually locating some hidden items and placing them in the right spots. Then, after finding a massive Black Book, I'm whisked away to the weird library dimension of Apocrypha.

This is not a toilet.

I won’t go into details, but the library dimension kind of sucks (it kind of sucked in the Dragonborn DLC as well). You have to run around with a torch (the darkness physically hurts you) getting attacked by the same monster over and over and looking for switches to open gates so you can collect a bunch of items to place in the right spots. This takes roughly forever, but eventually, I've completed the quest and I'm whisked back to the real world.

Starting to think necromancy might be a little evil or something.

Once I’m back in Tamriel, there's more work to be done before I can Lich-out all over everyone. I require a few more items and a secluded spot to perform the forbidden ritual. As it happens, a shadowy merchant called The Broker has been watching me hack my way to the top of the necromancy ladder, and sends me a note, via courier, inviting me to check out her ghoulish shop, where I can purchase most of what I need, including the deed to a nice underground lair where I can transform with some privacy.

More work follows, of the gathering kind, then the crafting kind, then the enchanting kind, and finally, after closely following the intricate instructions, I glug an evil potion of my own making and drop stone dead on the floor. Whoops! Missed a step.

A side-effect of becoming undead is becoming dead.

I reread everything, try again, and this time it pays off. I'm a Lich!

Houston, we have Lich-Off.

Returning to the surface in human form, I step into Solitude, ready to unleash my powerful evil upon the city. I transform into a Lich, hovering above the ground, bathed in eldritch magic. All will tremble at my hideous shade! All will die at my bony hand! All will be raised as my willing zombie servants! And then a courier walks up and tells me he's got a delivery for me.

Dude. DUDE. C'mon. Tryin' to be an evil skeleton ghost monster and you're FUCKING RUINING IT.

Well. Not quite the dramatic display of unspeakable evil I spent the last four or five hours unlocking. Still, after the courier wanders off, completely nonplussed at delivering a telegram to a TERRIFYING HOVERING LICH, I'm free to (somewhat sheepishly) cast spells, terrorize the locals, blast them with magic, and raise those who have fallen to fight for me.

Except for the damn Apocrypha level, this mod is pretty great (and quite challenging). There's also apparently a ton of extra content I didn't even get to. It's also the most reading-intensive mod I've played, and knowing what to do and how to do it is dependent on the careful reading of journals and books. Pick up all the new books and journals you find! Read them! Take them with you! It's the only way you'll become a Lich like me.

Installation: Download the mod here. I used the Nexus Mod Manager to install it, and you should too, because while there's a manual download, I don't see any manual installation instructions anywhere. This mod also doesn't really hold your hand except in the early quests, so if you get stuck, read the FAQ contained on this page.