Letters From Tamriel

An epistolary gaming blog

Zells’ Dungeon Quest series has launched on YouTube!

@Zells - sepia stone - smallHi, everyone!

I don’t know that I’ll be able to come back to this blog anytime soon, but for those of you who are still subscribed, I have an announcement. It took a couple of years, but I have finally been able to start my YouTube channel, and the first couple of videos are posted. The channel is Zellspeak, and the page is at:

The videos that are up are quest & lore walkthroughs of Banished Cells I and II. My intention is to go through each group dungeon on a quest-hunt – talk to the npcs, read the books, discuss relevant backstory. If you’re a solo player who doesn’t enjoy group play, or a veteran dungeon-runner who has always wondered what’s going on in the dungeon, this series is for you!

Welcome to Letters from Tamriel

As players of The Elder Scrolls games well know, no situation in Tamriel is so dire that one cannot take a moment to jot down a few notes in a journal or letter to a loved one, perhaps including three-fifths of a puzzle solution for those who might come along later.

In this spirit, Letters from Tamriel originally featured the epistolary fiction of my characters from Elder Scrolls Online, writing home with tales of their adventures. The one-sided conversations were hard to follow, however, so the blog evolved into my discussions of game mechanics, TES lore, and a whole lotta fan-girling about how much I love Elder Scrolls. To read the fiction, start with the Category “About This Site”, or pick a character and click their Category to read through their letters sequentially. The lore posts and fan-girling can be read in any order.

At the top of the right-column menu is a field labelled “Follow This Blog” – if you enter your email address into that field, future posts will show up in your inbox as emails.

Pull up a chair, grab a sweetroll, and enjoy!


ESO Pickpocketing Doesn’t Work Like You Think it Does

@Zells - sepia stone - smallHi, folks! I got a new job last year and blogging time evaporated. I doubt I will start posting regularly again, but I wanted to put up some information about pickpocketing – I’m hearing a lot of misconceptions about the mechanics of it.

First off, a definition: an “instanced” container can be opened by more than one person, and each person will get a random item. A backpack is an instanced container – if your party of 4 ppl finds a backpack, each one of you can loot it, and you’ll each get a separate, different thing.

This is in contrast to non-instanced containers, which can only be opened and looted by one person – overland treasure chests or harvest nodes are examples. If your party of 4 finds an ore deposit, only 1 of you gets to loot it, the other 3 can’t.

Now here’s the thing everyone misses: pickpocketable NPCs are instanced containers.

What do I mean by that?

For starters, people assume if an NPC is “Empty” that someone else has picked their pockets but not killed them, leaving them with Empty pockets – this is not true. If you find an NPC and their pockets are Empty, blame RNG, not the other players; you just got a bad draw. Just BoW them and let them respawn. If you have a bunch of Empty pockets in an area it still isn’t anyone’s fault, it’s like going into a delve and finding all the containers open. Zone out & come back.

Test it – have a friend pick an NPC’s pockets 3 times until they see “Empty”, then try it yourself. You’ll find the pockets still have items for you. No one else can take your pickpocketable items, the same way no one can steal a backpack loot from you.

That’s great, but it gets even better.

Once you’ve picked an NPC’s pockets one time, they are activated as a container for you. If you only take one thing and then BoW the NPC, you’ll only be able to loot one other (stolen) thing off the corpse – you’ll get 2 stolen loots.

BUT! If someone else not in your group kills the NPC, when you loot the body you will get BOTH the remaining 2 objects you could have pickpocketed. Every time.

So you can pickpocket with buddies, you just can’t be grouped. And it speeds things up b/c only one of you needs to wait for an NPC to stop being suspicious before that second pick; the other person(s) can just grab the first item and move on. You can switch back and forth and save a lot of time.

I swear to you this works. I’ve not only tested it, we’ve done guild events like this. It doesn’t work if you are grouped, in that case the party members will only get 1 item off the bodies.

This also means if you are pickpocketing in an area with competition, you don’t have to make both picks and BoW the NPC – your competition will be doing that for you. Just run ahead of the other thief and take 1 item from each NPC in the circuit. When you make your second loop around, clean the remaining 2 items off each corpse the other thief leaves behind. Again: I promise this is true. Go test it.

(And if you see someone doing this, there’s no need to all-cap and call them names or report them; they aren’t hurting you.)

One last note: in cases where the NPCs drop special items – like the House motif pages from Vvardenfell NPCs, or rare items like Skooma bubblers from Drunkards – those special items will only drop on the 3rd pull or very, very rarely from the second one. I’ve heard a bunch of people lately talking about “skipping” that second pick, b/c of the pause you have to make for the npc to stop being suspicious – they are picking the pocket once and then BoW’ing immediately… and then asking in chat why they aren’t getting the good drops. You have to make all 3 pulls to get the cool stuff.

Go test it all, and happy hunting!

Oh, yeah, I have a blog… hi! (plus Earthtear update)

@Zells - sepia stone - smallEvery once in a while I get busy or distracted and don’t think about posting for a week or two. Or three. Hi! I’m not dead!

Partly it happened this time because my urge to blog is usually motivated by things that happen in the game that I want to comment on. But for the last several weeks, my playtime can almost exclusively be described like this:

Me: Game time! I could do A, or B, or C, or D, or… so many fun things! Which will I choose?
Loading Screen: Earthtear exists; you’re standing in it. And it still isn’t finished. Just in case you forgot.
Me: Ooooh, look at all the shiny things rendering on my screen….
Me: Okay, Imma go play… but first I’ll just fix this one thing I didn’t place properly.
Me: ::”finishes” the one thing::
Me: ::starts something else::
Me: ::moves half the items in the cavern 3 pixels to the left::
Friend Message: Hey, Zells! Wanna come do (something that doesn’t involve Earthtear)?”
Me: ::doesn’t even see message::
Me: ::spends a half-hour watching the sun come up and the light rays explode through the cavern, hopes the lighting artists on the design team are paid well, considers the viability of half-hour YouTube vids called “Sunrise in Earthtear”::
Me: ::wanders around looking at view, making sure things look awesome from every angle, spins half the trees 10 degrees so the branches frame the object in the background juuuust so::
Me: ::switches out a half-dozen items for other items::
Me: ::removes three of those items entirely, while cursing our hated nemesis, the Dread Pirate Item Count, Pillager of Clutter::
Me: ::moves two-thirds of the items in the cavern 3 pixels to the right::
Me: So, that’s a good stopping point! Is it 11:00 o’clock yet? How much play time do I have left?
Clock: lol, it’s 2 am
Me: … I don’t understand “time”.
Clock: No, you really don’t. Go to bed.
Earthtear: But we were having so much fun! And… you don’t really want to leave that thing off center like that, do you? Do you?
Me: ::moves the thing, spends another hour spinning trees just so::

Repeat, ad infinitum.

At this point I have the living spaces 99% done, along with the treasure vault, trophy area, and the restricted section of the library. Kitchen/alchemy area and the “war room” are… 90% done. Ish. I think I’ve managed a good go at something that looks like a Psijic scrying portal. The library is… 80% done, and I have my little (non-functioning, darn it) wayshrine. The bar area is suitably decadent, but may still lose some bottles and pillows, as Item Count and I are, as usual, locked in a death match. (Spoiler: Item Count will win; it always does.) And my Earthtear project capstone will be a large’ish Magical Contraption that I need 200K in gold and another 350 masterwrit vouchers to finish.

I think it might be time for some screencaps next week. However, I also think I’m going to give video another go, as I’ve had requests for a video tour. I had some technical issues when I tried it before, but …maybe they’re resolved? Let’s try and see what happens.

In the meantime, if you’ve tried to message me and not gotten a response… Sorry! I’m not ignoring you, specifically, I’m just a housing junkie. 🙂

mystery motif

Hey, folks! I keep seeing this motif, but I can’t figure out what it is. Has wings, but definitely NOT Ra Gada. Looks Nocturnal-esque, but it’s also not Ebonshadow. Has similar details to Scalecaller, but Scalecaller doesn’t have wings… unless it’s a variant? I’ve heard they’re doing that now. Let me know if you recognize it!

mystery wings

Summerset How-To post errata, pt 2

@Zells - sepia stone - smallAnother few small updates have been made to the Summerset How-To post:

  1. I said 2 dailies were available; there are actually 3. The third is available from the Battlereeve standing between the crafting area and the Justiciars who give dailies. She sends you out to take down 3 Abyssal Geysers, however, her reward bag will not drop any Sapiarch motif pages.
  2. The Fang Lair and Scalecaller motifs were delayed and are just now dropping in-game. However, as of June 29 there is a bug preventing some players from learning the motifs.
  3. The Golden Gryphon Inn room is available for free to some players… I’d originally guessed that it was free if the character was under CP, but that is not correct. Current guess is that is given for free only if none of your characters have ever previously acquired any of the Inn rooms.
  4. No word yet on the price, but the Colossal Aldmeri Grotto player home will be available for sale from the Crown store from July 5-16.
  5. I have seen the (gold quality) grandfather clock for sale in guild traders, so I believe the pattern is now available from Rolis, but have not looked yet. But it is definitely available in-game now.

TES6 Speculation

E3 has come and gone, but the shock waves are still rolling from the announcement that Bethesda is, yes, working on Elder Scrolls VI. We are years away; the game is only in pre-production at this point, but… it IS in pre-production. 🙂 We’re looking at a release date of 2021 or 2022.

I’ve watched a few reaction videos, and my favorite is Scott on the FudgeMuppet channel at YouTube. He looks at the promo vid, then compares the geography to Tamriel, as well as considering lore, to figure out the setting of the game. Lots of good info in this vid, and his logic is solid, given what we know. Check it out:

I think his guesses are good guesses, and I don’t really disagree with his conclusions – High Rock and/or Hammerfell seems most likely. But I thought I’d take a look at some of the foundation assumptions he makes at the beginning of his argument.

Spoiler warning: I discuss the endings of previous TES solo games in this post. Click the Read More tag at your own peril. 🙂
Read more…

Summerset How-To post errata

@Zells - sepia stone - small I have made two small updates/corrections to the Summerset How-To post:

1) The recipe that affects fishing (I believe it’s called Lure Allure) no longer causes you to receive x2 drops with each cast. That was a glitch, not the intended effect of the food, and it has since been patched. Darnit. The actual intended effect, currently in play, gives a solo fisher the same increased chance at rare fishing drops that would be received if two people were fishing together.

2) Jewelry with the Swift trait is a possible drop from jewelry crafting writs as previously stated, but I missed one thing – the trait mat for Swift, Gilding Wax, is available from the masterwrit vendor Rolis Hlaalu. The cost is 20 vouchers.

And on a related note – I’ll also be updating my how-to guide for Thieves Guild Heists and Dark Brotherhood Sacraments to include the Swift trait and jewelry crafting. It’s now possible to make Night’s Silence jewelry, and also possible to transmute your current Night Terror jewelry so it has the Swift trait, which will be a godsend for those runs.

Lore: Elder Scrolls Cosmology


The Mage Constellation as depicted on an Ayleid tile; ESO.

The Elder Scrolls game world has one of the most interesting, complicated, and rich metaphysics of any fictional world I know, but the universe is not shaped like ours and doesn’t follow the same rules, and understanding the form of it requires digging through a ton of in-game books and visual references. As players we are involved in plots spanning both the physical planet of Nirn and the celestial structures around it, but it can be difficult to understand where you are or why.

This post will be a primer – I may at some point come back and explore some aspect further, but for now I’d like to share a basic overview of Elder Scrolls cosmology.

If your eyes have already glazed over, this is probably not the post for you. For the rest – I’ll meet you after the cut. 🙂
Read more…

Summerset How-To Essentials: farming, quest-starters, skill lines, dailies, etc.

@Zells - sepia stone - small

No lore or fluff this time – this is a comprehensive, nuts-and-bolts, “How To Get The Thing” guide to Summerset. How to start the big quests, where the motifs drop, how to get the collectibles, achievement furnishings available, etc. Let the checklist making begin!

After the cut:
Main Quest – how to begin
Psijic Order – how to begin
Skill lines – Psijic; jewelry
Dailies – where, who, how
Jewelry – how to begin / new traits, how to get
Motifs – where to farm pages
Crafting Stations – set descriptions / station location map
New Alchemy Reagents – what to farm
Housing – where, how to purchase
Furnishings – what, how to get
Collectibles / Mementos / Emotes – what, how to get (public dungeon info)
Additional events – Abyssal Geysers (w/map); Relics of Summerset (w/map)
Additional Achievements – new Crafting achievements
Daily Log-in Rewards – what, how
Read more…

Lore: Summerset – Sload

Couldn’t quite let the Sload thing go, decided to come back and explore further.

“Sload.” In my decades in Tamriel, I’ve heard the word, but never really tracked it down. Sload, the Coral Kingdom, Thras, the Coral Tower… those are all familiar, but I didn’t know what / where they were. A Sload npc was featured in the game Redguard, but that’s the one I missed.

During the Summerset promotions, I heard reference to the Sload as enemies of the Altmer, not as invasives creature like dreugh, but as an organized force with tactics and magic. That was super confusing. Are they people, or are they monsters, I kept asking.

Answer: yes. They are people-monsters.

Let’s start with a picture:

Sload Adult Yeeeeeeeah. I’m sticking with my “salt & flamethrower” plan. Who knew Jabba the Hutt had descendants on Tamriel?

And now I’m gonna have that laugh in my head all day. Good job, Zells.

(Turns out the Jabba look is totally intentional. While researching, I found that Michael Kirkbride said Jabba was an inspiration when he was creating the Sload. Also, the name is a portmanteau of slug and toad.)

History, life cycle, habits, and more after the cut. The “life cycle” part includes “grubs”; don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Read more…

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