In September of 2012 Richard Cobbett visited a version of Skyrim thrown into chaos by Sheogorath, God of Madness, and the assistance of over 200 blindly installed mods. In the third part, Skyrim's nastiest town has no idea what kind of carnage is about to be unleashed, and Compass finds inspiration in insanity from a most unusual source.
Three Days Earlier: Having skimmed around lots of the world, I decide it's time to focus a little more tightly on a specific hold—ideally finding one completely rebuilt or something, but even if not, to focus more on mechanics than surface-level additions like Solitude's weird statue or Whiterun's nasty flooding problems.
A guild then. I consider signing up with the Companions because—spoiler—werewolves, but there's a fair chunk of game before you get those powers, and I've already beaten enough people up to know that with my random mod mix at least, there's really not that much different there except for more blood and some death animations. The wizards? Nah. Theirs is a highly scripted kind of life—an OK bit of the game, sure, but not one I see offering much variety regardless of anything added on.
The Thieves? They have possibilities, and personally speaking are more interesting since I largely avoided their questline on roleplaying grounds when I first played Skyrim. Here as elsewhere it seems odd to be the hero who both rescues old ladies' cats for XP and knocks over their houses while they sleep. That said, the first thing I did in Skyrim was try to figure out how to join the Dark Brotherhood and blaze through their bloody, murderous questline with intense glee, so what would I know?
To Riften then. To Riften, gold and probably very little glory.
I arrive on a cold, grey morning, and on the outside at least, nothing seems different—beyond the now familiar giant trees everywhere. As usual, I'm greeted by the world's lamest shakedown attempt.
Truly, Riften is the Sin City of Skyrim.
Inside though, it's a little cheerier than I remember—not a redesign, but definitely more colourful. That seems the wrong way to go, really. I always though Riften should be darker rather than lighter. It just doesn't have any sense of danger to it, from the hilariously open shakedowns to the way the Thieves Guild approach you with work. I'd say that the Elder Scrolls series just isn't that good at danger, but, well, the Dark Brotherhood does just fine. Riften just doesn't have any oomph.
I check inside a few buildings before kicking off the Thieves' Guild storyline, but nothing exciting pops up. Knowing that stealth is going to be an issue though, and I'm already pretty bad at it, I decide I should probably do something with Lydia before making my mark on the criminal underworld.
The Thieves Guild questline kicks off with a guy called Brynjolf recruiting you to steal something from one of the vendors in Riften's market and plant it on another. It's pretty easy, with a little light lockpicking but no actual challenge. It's the perfect crime. An idiot could pull it off without a hitch.
At least... normally. Unlike the regular game though, the guards are rather more attentive now. Pull a sword or start sneaking and they rush up to you and tail you relentlessly. I try a couple of times, but there's no way I can get away with the crime. I humbly pay my fine and head back to Brynholf. Luckily, he's still a moron and decides I have the 'spark' his organisation needs, and I get the invite to the secret underground Thieves Guild headquarters anyway. This explains a lot about Riften.
To get to the Guild, you have to go through a set of underground tunnels called the Ratway. Unfortunately, you're not the only one down there, and the company is immediately hostile. This isn't a problem when you're armed to the teeth. It's a little trickier when you're only wearing a jester suit.
But! Who says you have to play fair? Time to even the odds a little.
Bug or just a clashing mod, I don't know. Pulling out my scimitar and a hand of magic death, I still manage to take them down thanks to my fast-recharging magicka and lots of convenient corridors. It's a close thing though, and I'm pretty metaphorically bloody by the time I get to the Thieves Guild.
Everyone's gathered together in an underground tavern called The Ragged Flagon—a merry band of crooks, thieves, bounders and cads. Obviously, being a stranger, I do my best to fit in by casually stealing all their stuff. They react just as hardened criminals naturally would.
Their badass credibility isn't exactly helped by the first mission—to go shakedown some merchants. Everyone makes it clear that the Thieves Guild is all talk, to the point of not so much being shocked when I do things like threaten their families as just a little surprised. Brynjolf admits this, but says it's all in order, and everything will become clear after I speak with their leader, Mercer Frey.
Frey assigns my first task for the Guild—to go and burn some beehives on behalf of the town matriarch, who runs a brewery and is involved in all kinds of complicated stuff. Mission assigned, I'm asked if I have any questions—and seeing the state of the place... one whose inner circle operates out of a cistern in the middle of the city's sewers no less.. one minor one does rather spring to mind.
Hypothetically, if I wanted to run this place and make it into something that doesn't diminish the entire concept of crime by its mere existence, how long would it likely take to rip Mercer Frey's job out from under his flabby arse?
Yeah, no. As a more competent criminal might say: "This is a nice Thieves Guild you've got here. Be a shame if anything happened to it."
Normally of course, this would be a pretty empty threat. Plot-critical NPCs are immortal, and even if not, you don't generally survive long by walking up to one and biffing them in the face while dressed as Harley Quinn. Now though, I'm pretty sure everyone in Skyrim can be taken down, with the possible exception of the kids. Mercer is a bit weird because attacking him doesn't actually count as attacking a member of the Guild, so everyone just ignores you if you start fighting to the death. The other heads of this idiotic group of fools and morons also have to be cleansed to consider the job done though—to say nothing of all those layabouts sitting around and farting in the Flagon—so never mind.
Not only can I wipe them all out right now though, I can do it without even even officially being responsible. How? Because of this guy, who I met in Whiterun a while ago.
He's a newly added Ambassador from the Shivering Isles—Sheogorath's realm—with a bag full of toys to play with. Most are unsurprisingly goofy and pointless, like a fork that gives you meat when you hit people, or a blunted sword. He also has a ungodly powerful spell though: "Conjure Plague".
What does this do? Initially, or judging from the spell description, not very much.
Yep. Rats-eroids. And you can keep casting it.
There's only one real downside to the Create Plague spell, though it's a big one—that while everything will attack and thus aggro it, the summoned rat defaults to to targeting you until then. In short, it's effective, but you absolutely have to get some height/distance on enemies before casting—unless you're shooting a quick video, of course—or you just get caught in the fur.
But if you want to clean a room and walk away karmically pure? There's no better way.
As for the Flagon folks, they're unfortunately smart enough to hang out in a room with no big stuff to climb on, and it turns out that Brynjolf is God. Well, immortal, anyway. No matter how often he gets chewed, he just keeps on ticking. I opt for the "Mummy" strategy of dealing with an immortal—filling the room with plague rats, then locking all the doors with a magical locking spell I found. He'll probably be back in 2,000 years to wreak vengeance in one decent movie and several shitty sequels, but that's something for a future hero of Tamriel to worry about.
And so was the hostile takeover of the Thieves Guild complete, lacking only a few minor things from the official route—the missions, the money, the items, the option to wander off with Nocturnal's Skeleton Key and any in-game recognition of the victory. Still, deep in their code, I'm sure the NPCs know. Why, as I head to my room in the tavern, I'm sure they're talking about their saviour even now.
Yes, it's a bit of an indulgence—but there are a few items in Skyrim that seemed an obvious fit for someone's modding efforts, and Wabbajack was top on the list. Cue a trip to the console to get hold of it, followed by immediately wishing I'd phrased that differently. Only one question remains. Is the population of Riften corrupt enough to deserve being wiped off the face of Tamriel?
Yes, obviously. And you know the best thing about the Wabbajack spell? Dual-wielding.
Tomorrow! A mysterious dungeon beckons! Everyone finally gets actual armour with protection and everything! What awaits in the Madgod's lair? In memory of Riften. Never forget.
Skyrim: Week Of Madness
The insanity continues... come along for the ride...
Day 3: The Dovahkiin Riften Deserves, Not The Hero It Needs