Letters From Tamriel

An epistolary gaming blog

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 will feature the epistolary fiction of my characters from Elder Scrolls Online, writing home with tales of their adventure and intrigue.  Those letters will be interspersed with my discussions of game mechanics, TES history and backstories, and other ESO-related topics.  Start with the Category “About This Site”, or pick a character and click their Category to read through their letters sequentially.

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



Conversations with Sotha Sil

This is what the inside of my head sounds like when I’m playing in Clockwork City. Happy Friday!


People say life is the product of our choices, but I’ve never found that to be the case.
– Sotha Sil, at the culmination of Clockwork City’s main quest

Zells: Okay, but… the “Dancing Spider” fabricants: those were a choice, right? They didn’t exist, and you decided to make them, and now they’re everywhere, jumping on me, making that snickity-snackity sound with their pruning shear pincers as they try and sever my body parts… leaping clockwork spider-bots, Sil. You did that. On purpose. Choices matter.

Sil: Life is such a mystery; who among us can precisely define causality?

Zells: And hey, about that mega-processed “nutrient paste” everyone trapped in your Clockwork City eats to survive… I’ve noticed there are no graveyards here, no bodies. Have you ever considered that your choices are not the choices others would make, if they had the chance?

Sil: “Choice” and “chance” are both illusions, of course. The flow of time does not alter its course for the wishes of individuals, regardless of their nobility of purpose.

Zells: Riiiiight. Speaking of that no-graveyards issue – I also notice you encourage your apostles to be curious about all things, except information about the process by which you create your factotum servants is behind a hard firewall. And I’ve noticed the factotums say “By Seht’s Will I am bound” quite frequently. Would it be wrong to assume those factotums are powered by soul gems containing the souls of your former citizens? Perhaps that’s why so many of them end up “defective” and prone to attacking everyone? Since being trapped in a soul gem in a metal body is an unbearable existence that drives souls mad?

~cough~Asylum Sanctorum~cough~

Sil: Existential boundaries are always in flux, a continuum rather than a clear divide as we all like to fool ourselves into believing. From the long view, who of us can say what “life” even is?

Zells: Yeah, that’s what I thought. So glad we had this talk. You’re the worst, buddy.

Sil: I don’t disagree; I anticipate paying quite dearly for my many transgressions. If only I could have altered my behavior at some point and prevented any of this from happening.

Zells: If only.

Lore: Saint Alessia, Morihaus, & the White-Gold Tower

@Zells - sepia stone - smallSubtitle: How the Empire Got Its Groove On

Today we’re gonna talk about Alessia & Morihaus, the fall of the mer, the rise of men, and the founding of the Empire.

Also: history, metaphysics, the White-Gold Tower, the Ayleids, Pelinal Whitestrake, Minotaurs, the Amulet of Kings, Lorkhan, the dragonfires, and Akatosh. Oh, and blood. There’s a lot about blood. 🙂

All that and more after the cut!

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Mournful Aegis!

I have a long lore post about St. Alessia and the founding of the Empire almost ready to publish. I was going to finish that today, but then this happened:

Mournful Aegis at Hundings

There are many like it, but this one is mine. ❤

I’ll be moving him to Earthtear once I’ve got it, but right now he’s floating at the entrance of my Hunding’s – primary residence – so guildies can stop by and see. I don’t have enough item space to have the funerary statues set up there, but they are all out for viewing at another house, which I’m happy to take people to. Feel free to stop by if I’m on your friends list, and if not, send me a mail or a PM.

ESO’s Play-Test Server (PTS): what, how, why

@Zells - sepia stone - smallThanks to Earthtear Cavern, I have logged onto the Play-Test Server for the first time, and it’s been both frustrating and fun. Not everything was intuitively obvious, so I’m going to walk through what the PTS is, how you can access it, and why you might want to.

Annnnnd: cut. Read more…

March Crown Store offerings

Literally two posts ago, I wistfully asked ZOS to add magick-y-looking sigils and glowy bits to the furnishings. The reason I wanted them right now was so I could get a handful of Gargoyle achievement statues and make them look like they’re capable of coming alive to protect the treasure vault I’ll be building in Earthtear. It was a Plan B idea, since I couldn’t get large, animated monsters to put in there.

The March Crown store offerings have been announced, and this is the promo pic for a furnishings pack called Hubalajad’s Treasure Bundle:

RaGada funerary furnishings pack

That’s a “Mournful Aegis” in the center. It’s a guardian. Of treasure. It comes with the pack, which will be available March 8 through March 12. Also: tons of glittery valuables for the vault.

I mean…

Dear ZOS,

❤ ❤ ❤

Thanks & Kisses,

Lore: Origins of the Tribunal

When the Morrowind chapter was released, and I was hopping up and down and babbling about the TES3 storyline to anyone who would listen, several people told me they had either not played TES3, or hadn’t finished it. After my heart finished breaking, I asked if they knew the story from second-hand sources, and most of them either said no, or that they’d tried, but there’s so much material, and so much of it conflicts, that they hadn’t gotten to the end of it. This, therefore, is the story of how the Tribunal came to power. (But not the whole plot of TES3.)

Rather than me saying “this happened, then the other thing happened”, I’m presenting the story in character voice, as a vision. My character Umbra is a devotee of Azura, Azura’s pretty passionately involved in that story – and in the main story for ESO’s Morrowind chapter – and some of the information in the in-game lore books was originally written by Azurian priests.

To be clear, though Umbra and several of my characters hate the Tribunal, as a player I absolutely love them. I mean… I hate them, they’re the worst, but they’re also fabulous. Full of contradiction but consistently driven by the same motivations, regretful but also resolute, possessed of moments of true self-awareness in between their jaw-droppingly ridiculous delusions. The reason TES3 is so beloved is because the Tribunal has real resonance, and their story is amazing. After hundreds of hours playing TES3 and hearing rumors that Sotha Sil had disappeared, the moment when I finally found him in the game and saw why he was missing will stay with me as one of the most shocking moments from any video game, ever.

And on that note – should be clear by now, but this post is chock full of TES3 Spoilers, so the vision is behind the cut.

Last thing: As with all TES lore, the exact details of the Battle of Red Mountain and the apotheosis of the Tribunal are in dispute. Every source of information about the events is biased and accounts directly conflict. Everyone has an agenda, and their own story to promote. This is Azura’s version. More or less. I will post links to reference sources after the vision, because I am the kinda nerd who gives citations.
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Earthtear Cavern / housing plans

@Zells - sepia stone - smallWhen making player-house mods for the solo games, I sometimes start from scratch and drop a new building into the environment, but usually not. My favorite kind of housing mod is when the character finds a place they like while adventuring and “moves in” after they’ve cleared the place. I find the exact cell and make the changes; once installed the mod removes enemy spawn spots, cleans up any bad-guy messes, and adds in the character-specific furnishings.

Sometimes those mods are in proper houses or other structures, but just as often I retro-fit cool environments I find into living spaces, as though the character had renovated them. My thief will bust a smuggling operation and then take over their cave system with its little cove and boats and tricked-out Smuggler Boss Bedroom of Stolen Luxury Items. My city-hating Bosmer finds a beautiful wilderness cave with trees and water and sun pouring in from a break in the cave’s ceiling, and I mod out the bears and skeevers and mod in a treehouse. And my mage Zellfire finds herself some Ayleid ruins with a majestic view and makes herself a library, lab, treasure vault, trophy room, and a bedroom worthy of an Emperor.

The first time I walked into Earthtear Cavern, I got chills. It’s so much like a place I once mod’d that it’s a little creepy, tbh. Except Earthtear is so, so much better than mine – the way the view extends out of the cave structure at the far end is glorious, and I’ve never made an Ayleid-ruins house with waterfalls, which just seems like a huge oversight now, because waterfalls make everything better, always. D’uh, Zells.

I always knew I was going to buy Earthtear, it was just a matter of time. But Earthtear’s a challenge – the open space requires a plan; a lot of big, expensive furnishings; and will take a mountain of gold and raw materials. There was no point in buying it when it was first offered. I couldn’t have done anything with it.

A year after I saw first saw it: it is finally time.

In the solo games I only run one mage, Zellfire, and I only build one magey house for her. In ESO I have a couple of mages I play a lot, and almost interchangeably – Fire & Umbra – they pass gear back and forth so much I decided they were friends. For the last couple of months I’ve been wanting to start work on a house for Fire, and as I was thinking about what kinds of spaces she would use, I realized: a) putting together a proper library with massive amounts of books, papers, and library flotsam is going to be an expensive, time-consuming pain in the butt*, and b) Umbra also wants a library in her house, and there’s no way I’m doing all that twice. At that point they went from being friends to deciding to share a home.

*(It’s possible I am still traumatized from the Morrowind library I mod’d more than ten years ago, with Every. Single. Book. in the TES3 game present and organized by subject matter (yeah, really), then alphabetized (oh yeah, I’m nuts) and perfectly aligned on three dozen bookshelves in 2 different rooms, all with no working snap-to-edge feature in the mod’ing software. (Seriously: nuts.) But it looked great when I was done. :p )

So I started re-evaluating all the houses, looking for a place that fit both Fire & Umbra. Was more of a challenge than I expected, tho’ – they want to share a library and lab, and they both want a trophy space and a serious vault w/treasures, but Umbra also wants an Azura shrine (and Sithis shrine) and Fire is not a huge fan of religious devotion, so it needs to be out of the way. Fire, who is my main crafter, wants big, well-laid out crafting areas, but Umbra doesn’t craft and doesn’t care, so that also needs a somewhat-segregated space.

Neither of these characters would consider an Argonian or Bosmer house, and the Nord/Orc houses were also too… “rustic” for them. The Amaya Lake Lodge could have worked, but I really hate loading doors, and that place is full of them. Quondam Indorilia is… okay, but I don’t like the garden. The Velothi Reverie house has a great backyard where the Azura shrine could have gone, but it was too small overall, and the backyard is behind a loading door, so I wouldn’t have gone back there much (or at all) anyway.

Then I went back to look at Earthtear again for the first time in months, and pretty immediately it all fell together in my head. Umbra’s bed here, Azura shrine there, Fire’s clothing crafting area in that spot, shooting range on that side, here’s the library area…

It’s going to take me weeks, possibly months, and tens of millions of gold. Earthtear can only be purchased with Crowns, so I’m going to hold off until Crowns go on sale again, then pick up enough to get both Earthtear and the Crown-store-only items I’ll need. I’ll also be buying patterns in-game – many Ayleid, Dwemer, and Clockwork – and those will be tens or hundreds of thousands of gold each.

If I spend 300K on a pattern, make the thing, and then find it doesn’t fit in the space I need it to go, I will be a sad, sad Zells. Double my potential disappointment if I spend Crowns to buy furnishings and find they don’t fit. And I can’t move in right away anyhow, because I’m waiting on a Crown sale.

So after more than two years of playing, Earthtear is going to be the thing that gets me to finally log into the Play-Test Server, where I can get everything cheap & easy and figure out a shopping list. Until Crowns go on sale, I’ll be hanging out a lot in PTS!Earthtear, obsessively moving statues and Ayleid bookshelves around, figuring out exactly how many Jester’s trees and Gargoyles and which Clockwork patterns and trying desperately to precisely itemize the pricey pieces.

Drifted off to sleep last night thinking about which objects I can use to simulate magickal wards on the treasure vault. 🙂

Dear ZOS –
I need some environmental-special-furnishings like the Hag Fen fog, but of spell effects like the glowing sigils that appear in some AoE areas, and large, glowing, red/blue Daedric script that can be placed on walls & floors. Beams of flickering, colored light would also be nifty. Could you please add those within the next few weeks so they’ll be available when I’m ready? 


I will, of course, post pics when I have them, but we’re a long, long ways off from that. I have been poking away at a couple of smaller homes – the Mournhold Flaming Nix apartment, mostly – and I’ll probably get that done and have those screencaps up first. Have also been amusing myself with Sleek Creek, but I’ve decided I want a Dwemer airship tied at an air dock on that house, so I need more Dwemer & Clockwork patterns and that means that’s another long-term project.

Once I start developing a shopping list, I’ll be pestering everyone I know to find if they can make this thing or that thing, and what mats are needed. So y’all can look forward to that – thanks in advance. 🙂

Scalecaller Peak – review/boss tips

@Zells - sepia stone - smallI was able to twist my group’s collective arms and get them to run Scalecaller last Thursday (by which I mean I said “hey, let’s…” and they said “YES”). I also did Fang Lair Keep this weekend, too.

Fun dungeons, both. Challenging, but that’s good. The DLC dungeons have been harder than base-game, and that’s true in this case. But it’s been long enough since I’ve been in any of the DLC dungeons that I can’t really compare this one to any previous – Scalecaller seems easier than Cradle of Shadows, for example, but the last time I ran CoS my DPS was at least 10K lower, maybe 15…

(Wow, hadn’t realized it, but that’s true. I suddenly want to re-run every hard dungeon that’s ever kicked my ass. Suppose my boss would understand if I told him I needed to take today off, go home immediately, and run DLC dungeons all day?)

We got hung up a couple of the fights and looked around online for walkthroughs detailing those mechanics, but couldn’t find any with the info we needed, so we wiped and watched and wiped and experimented and wiped and eventually figured them out. A couple of those wipes were frustrating, but I’d much rather have battles in the game I can’t walk through the first time.

(Alcast now has an excellent walkthrough guide with all boss mechanics detailed at his site, this Reddit user posted some good tips, and I have some brief notes after the cut.)

The story for Scalecaller Peak: a group of Peryite cultists found a Dragon Priest lair and is using it as a base of operations to concoct a powerful new disease to ravage Tamriel. All the previous lair-dwellers are now infected w/the disease – skeevers, ogres, leimenids, etc. Someone in your group needs Purge slotted on their weapon bar.

Peryite is the Daedric Prince of pestilence, and he is depicted as a wyrm (skinny dragon) as a sort of insult to Akatosh; when you get to the final battle you can see statues of him the cultists have erected. I mention this because it confused me – they’re obviously not statues of proper TES dragons and just as obviously not part of the original Dragon Priest construction, and I forgot Peryite is depicted that way. My group asked me about them; I rolled and failed my Daedra-Lore check. How embarrassing. Hopefully doing the follow-up research will redeem me. 🙂

Peryite Shrine - Oblivion

This is where you’ve seen that statue before – Peryite shrine, Oblivion

It was nice to see the Dragon Priest trappings again. (For a value of “nice” that includes enemies trying to melt your face off, natch.) The “interior” of the dungeon is very reminiscent of Skyrim – after the entrance the path leads up the mountain, taking you outside for beautiful vistas of snow-and-ice-covered ravines and peaks before leading you back to disease-filled cave corridors and then ultimately up to the mountain’s summit overlook for the final battle. Really beautiful work.

In summary: tough, fun, pretty, fun, slot Purge!, fun.

Armor sets and boss tips are after the cut.
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Update 17 review

@Zells - sepia stone - small


I realize the game devs don’t make changes to the game based on what I personally want – I’m merely dead center in their target demographic.  Nonetheless, I do continually feel the updates are personal love notes just to me.

Dearest Zells,
Of our millions of players, we want you, personally, to be happy, so have some segregated housing storage and a new way to completely customize the appearance of your gear no matter what drop-set you’re wearing. Also: leveling rewards! And did we mention there’s new dye colors, and you can dye weapons now?
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Game Devs

I ❤ you, too, Devs!  ~makes little heart shape with hands~

~pauses, looks at all the patient faces in the audience~

Uh…. so that’s not a “review” in the strictest sense of the word, huh? Yeah, okay, valid response on your part.

I’m going to try and talk my usual Thursday night group into doing the new dungeons this week (shouldn’t have to twist their arms much), and hopefully by Friday I’ll have something to say that’s more coherent than the high-pitched dolphin noises I’m making now and was making last night when I was cleaning furnishings out of my banker and putting them into my new storage containers. Because there’s segregated housing storage now, have I mentioned that already at any point? 🙂

Have a great week!

The Alts, specifics

@Zells - sepia stone - smallLast post I babbled about the generalities of my alt line-up; this time I’ll go through the specifics of what they each do.

Someone once commented, “so when do you stop messing around with all that and start playing the game?” Just to be clear: this is me playing the game. I actually do like grinding, it amuses the same part of my brain that likes to knit or make chain jewelry – small, repetitive actions towards a goal are soothing to me – and when I’m in the right mood I can farm a circuit for 6 hours w/o blinking. At the same time, the instant I do get bored, I’m done. My characters are set up the way they are so I never feel stuck, or like I’m in a rut; I do whatever is fun until it isn’t fun anymore, then I jump characters and do something else. I go down the list approximately in the order I have it below, skipping any character if I don’t feel like doing their thing, or if I’m pressed for time.

All of my characters now have 50 in all crafting skills, but until a couple of weeks ago, one character in the rotation would be doing decon as part of their log-in. And I’m down to only 3 characters who need the stable, but a stable trip also used to be part of the deal.

Aaaaaaaaaand: cut.
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