Back and at it again! For an explanation of what this is and the rules I have set myself in tackling ESO lore, please see this first (well, second) posting: https://tamriel-rebuilt.org/content/eso-lore-overhaul-character-creation...
This time I am moving into looking at the storylines and aesthetics of the Stonefalls zone, an Ebonheart Pact zone dedicated to Dunmer. Part One covers quests and other various nitpicks from Davon's Watch to Senie.
A Note on Architecture
The Issue: TES3 provided us with six fantastic sets of architecture to showcase each of the Dunmer's major factions (seven if you count Ashlander huts). In vanilla ESO, due to budget and mechanic constraints, we only see the one (two, if you again count the Ashlander huts).
The Proposal: Can we just clear this up once and for all, plox? The Dunmer architecture of mainland Morrowind is Indoril, based off of what we see in TES3's Tribunal expansion (if with less of the gaudy green). We haven't seen Dres architecture (more on that when I get to Deshaan), and the architecture of Hlaalu, Redoran, Telvanni, and ancient Velothi is covered on Vvardenfell (-ish; I could complain about these too) . As architecture defines who owned a town or dungeon in most TES games, this will carry further implications for changing the Great House alignment of some of the ESO towns, but I will cover those more thoroughly in their respective sections.
The Covenant is Attacking!
The Issue: Somehow the Covenant sailed past Skyrim, past the Redoran holdings in the north, and all the way down to Davon's Watch to launch their attack without anyone noticing. And we ask: HOW? Did all the Nords convince the Redorans to all get drunk or something?
The Proposal: Magic. Magic solves everything, right? It would be easy enough to drop in a reference here or there that the Covenant either used magic to cloak their ships, or perhaps even teleported themselves in. But there's more that could be done here. In most universes, in order to teleport, a mage must first know where he is going, or at least be certain there is nothing standing in his intended destination in case of awkward and painful body displacement. The Covenant may have needed to send in scouts first to mark out locations for their mages to teleport the troops to. This could be a whole other questline dealing with rooting out Covenant agents inside Davon's Watch. Now that we have sneak and assassination mechanics from the DLCs, this could further be an opportunity to put those mechanics into the older content as well.
Dunmer Style Names
The Issue: Many places in Stonefalls are given generic fantasy names like "Ash Mountain" and "Magmaflow Outlook". Boring!
The Proposal: Now, maybe I'm just spoiled by Tamriel Rebuilt and Project Tamriel, which insists on making such generic names (some of which come directly from Arena, so they are technically lore, just bland TES1 lore...) into names that sound more Dunmeri in nature, with the justification that the generic fantasy name was the Common translation. This may be a bit didactic, but the details inform the atmosphere, and fighting on the slopes of "Ara Cithal" (Ash Mountain) or surveying the land from the tip of "Hagil Foyada" (Magmaflow Outlook, or literally "new fire-river") makes me instantly feel like I'm in a more alien and compelling world. Not so boring!
Chimer, Argonians, and Hist, Oh My
Since these all have to do with the conflict on the Starved Plain, I put them under one heading.
The Issue: Why is there an Argonian ghost here? And why does she wish to be released to Aetherius? If Argonian souls come from the Hist, surely they would return to the Hist instead, and might not even be able to manifest as a ghost at all? Beyond the inaccuracies with how Argonian souls work, I also think this quest has an issue of pacing and world-building. Dunmer should be at the center of Dunmer history in a Dunmer zone. I appreciate the attempt to draw in the Pact's storyline here by making mention to Argonian slavery in the past, but it feels like an unsatisfying detour without much pay off in the end--you only free three spirits in the past, hardly a dent in all the abuse visited on Argonian slaves.
The Proposal: I would instead retool this quest so that the spirit is a Chimer, disoriented and confused in that good old poltergeist fashion, and may even call the player a slave and order them to get back into the fray if the quest writer wanted to have a little fun with it. Another alternative would be to have the ghost be a Khajiit, to preserve a similar aesthetic to the original quest. I suggest Khajiit in particular as they are the other beast race frequently enslaved by the Dunmer, and it is also a little known fact that Khajiit were present at the Battle of Red Mountain, suggesting they were slaves or allies to the Chimer at one point and may have gotten involved in their other wars.
The Issue: The Argonian also mentions how the Ashlands were present during her own lifetime, but the zone's story and landscape gives one the impression that the volcano of Ash Mountain only erupted and created the nearby Ashlands due to Balreth's recent summoning.
The Proposal: To better foreshadow the history of the Brothers of Strife, she could instead mention how these usually fertile lands were covered over and destroyed by ash and fire before during her lifetime, due to a great calamity in the north. (Leave it in mystery of whether she means Balreth and Ash Mountain or Red Mountain here--better foreshadowing of all the things!) Also, if the questgiver becomes another race (my other proposal), instead of giving the player the warning about Argonians being taken advantage of in the Pact, she could warn the player about the Chimeri/Dunmeri way of delving into destructive, forbidden magics and having it come back to bite them later on. This would tie well into the theme of the main Stonefalls quest where Tanval suffers for his summoning of Balreth, as well as other Chimeri/Dunmeri themes, like the Tribunal delving into the magic of the Heart of Lorkhan and the Chimer being exiled due to their worship of Daedra.
The Issue: The Dunmer are the ones who suggest enslaving the Chimer spirits. The Argonian is the one who suggests they free them. There is one problem: Dunmer respect their ancestors. They wouldn't enslave them. (Though I suppose you could make an argument for the Telvanni...)
The Proposal: Flip these roles arond. The Dunmer becomes an Indoril priest who wants to take care of his ancestor's spirits properly. (At a stretch, he could be a she and an Ashlander farseer who came to investigate when she
felt a disturbance in the Force heard the angry cries of the ancestors. This would serve the additional purpose of making the Ashlanders not so RAGE-HATE-KILL as they are portrayed in other parts of the Stonefalls.)
The Argonian then, bitter about her people's enslavement, believes enslaving the spirits would be a nice bit of poetic justice to her people's ancient plight. Though this may seem out of character for an Argonian, remember that for some, the response to bigotry is more bigotry. This gives Argonians more of a spine and an edge in ESO, where I felt in their other quests they were often portrayed as helpless victims. It also helps show that the Pact is really quite extraordinary, being able to grow up out of the bitter hatred between these three races, and that despite their best efforts, it is not always the big happy family that they'd like to believe it is. Finally, choosing an Argonian as the one suggesting enslavement rubs in the fact a little more that Argonian spirits are not like the spirits of other beings on Nirn: it may be this Argonian is less squeamish about necromancy because other souls are not people to him/her in the same way.
Still, if that's too much of a head turn, then keep the NPC who suggests enslaving the spirits a Telvanni, so that all the old dialogue for him can be recycled; just make it more clear that his suggesting this necromancy would upset the Indoril and most other Dunmer very much indeed if word of his doings ever spread much farther than this camp. After all, Dunmer may be a bunch of backstabbing jerks, but they do have some honor, and much of that is accorded to their ancestors above all. Telvanni are the exception.
As a sidenote, this quest is a two-parter. The follow up quests to both fit well into the above suggestions--albeit you'd have to re-tailor "Wayward Son" a bit if you change the Telvanni NPC into an Argonian. The Argonians helping to regrow the Ashlands during "Giving for the Greater Good" seems an especially good counterpoint to the Argonian wanting to enslave the Chimer, as well as the hint that Stonefalls isn't normally an ashland.
The Issue: When giving the kwama cap to the Argonians to regrow the Ashlands, they mention their soul becoming one with the trees of the Stonefalls. Argonians don't work this way--their souls don't return to just any old tree, but the Hist, and unless you accept the one in Ebonheart as being canon (more on that when I get there), those are all back home in Black Marsh.
The Proposal: Though the least complicated fix to this would be to say the Argonians are just spreading spores around and that there is no self-sacrifice going on, that's pretty bland and also loses some of the impact of how far the Argonians are willing to go for their new Pact. I suggest instead delving more deeply into the weirdness of Hist lore. Keep the self-sacrifice, but change the dialogue here to suggest that the Hist spirit itself is being spread to the Stonefalls as a result of the Argonian's ritual, for the purpose of knitting together the spiritual backdrop, so to speak. The lore behind this gets a bit complicated, but I believe this way would have the further benefit of making the Argonian's efforts a little more self-serving, and hence realistic, considering the unstable and distrusting nature of the Pact. The Argonians are healing the land, yes, but they are also setting up a power structure only they can tap into and manipulate.
Some background lore on this: The Hist exist in another dimension, and the Hist trees of Black Marsh are their physical manifestation, but it may be possible that their souls can reach far beyond, outside of normal space as we understand it, for they are not governed by the physics and time of the Earthbones necessarily. The Hist likely have their own unknowable motives for wanting to spread their influence across Tamriel (references from Redguard and the Out-of-Game material on the Oblivion Crisis suggest that Hist are curious about the rest of the world, and send the Argonians out as scouts, scientists, or sleeper cells). As Argonians can only feel the Hist's desires as instinct and vague urges--if they feel anything from them at all--this should be presented only as a religious "feel good" ritual by the Argonian NPCs, maybe with some growing of new plants involved. (Hey, maybe that's where that crazy Hist tree in Ebonheart comes from?)
All of this still poses a problem with the kwama cap, though. Kwama are native to Morrowind, so it makes little sense as to why using a mushroom that assumably only grows in eggmines would work in a ritual that originates in Black Marsh. This isn't an entirely lost cause, however. According to some speculation, the Hist used to extend far beyond Black Marsh. Now it's MY turn to speculate: It could be that the kwama cap is the remnants of a creature (sentient walking mushroom thing?) that the Hist used as a soul repository in the same way as they now use the Argonians, if from another kalpa or very long ago in the past. By strengthening their old connections to the kwama cap, they strengthen their reach outside of Black March again. Another alternative is that these kwama caps ARE the Hist, a devolved version or a sproutling left behind when the Hist died back to Black Marsh. An alternative to the alternative is that the Hist need a creature with a soul, one native to Morrowind, to make into a kind of quasi-Argonian that amplifies their reach into Morrowind but isn't perhaps as sentient as the Argonians. (No one else would notice the difference.) The player would be asked to capture a live kwama instead of a kwama cap, specfically because their natural hivemind makes them more susceptible to the similar hivemind structure of the Hist. An alternative to the alternative to the alternative is that the Argonians don't need any ritual components at all, though this would remove any purpose for the player going into that cave.
...all alternatives aside, it really doesn't matter except to say in the dialogue that the kwama cap is (or isn't) necessary to the ritual, due to some unique but poorly understood connection it has with the Hist. The NPCs probably don't understand the true underpinnings of the whole process either, after all.
Two critiques to do with the quests in Senie.
The Issue: The Dunmer in Senie have had a volcano erupt on them. Several are badly burned, and a local Argonian suggest a concoction of shalk chitin to help them. But wait, I thought Dunmer were resistant to fire, and shouldn't they know the alchemical properties of creatures native to their own province?
The Proposal: Flip the roles in this quest, again. Nords and Argonians of the Pact have been badly hurt by the eruption and the subsequent shalk infestation, as they don't have the fire resistance of the Dunmer. Spellwright Girvas is still disdainful of his outlander allies and doesn't want to do anything to help them (claims he is too busy helping the Dunmer of Senie, or perhaps says the outlanders are weak and should never have come to Morrowind). Hoever, one of the other Dunmer in town knows about the remedy of the shalk chitin and asks the player to help. The same theme of the original quest--that some Dunmer are arrogant pricks--is thus preserved through in Spellwright Girvas' actions, but changing who got hurt and who knows the cure better fits into the logic of the world.
The Issue: Spellwright Girvas jumps to conclusions that the Argonians kidnapped his daughter, believing this even after the player points out that the eruption might have caused her disappearance. This is exceptionally stupid of Girvas, even given the later reveal about his wife.
The Proposal: Instead say that Girvas noticed his daughter went missing, and blames the Argonians and Nords for not protecting her and then not dropping everything to help find her. It still comes across as unreasonable and arrogant, but not so incredibly brainless. The rest of the quest could still progress as is, including Girvas accusing Walks-in-Ash of trying to harm his daugther when he finds them together.
I put here some minor details that didn't warrant full explanations.
- The relic that summons Balreth is Nam Indoril's skull? I mean, I would have been looking for a fancy candlestick or something. Kind of strange, and also maybe a missed opportunity to elaborate more on how Dunmer view necromancy and the servitude of their ancestors (aka, not your normal necromancy, f'lah!).
- Why would the Covenant sacrifice siege equipment in a "feint"? That's expensive stuff to just throw away! I would tweak the wording so that it sounds more like the Covenant had a backup plan, or had made a two-pronged attack and the Pact had only noticed the first attack until they heard the screams from inside town... EDIT: Or a three-pronged attack, given that they came at Davon's Watch from the southern side, too.
- One of the Covenant soldiers yells "Ancestors preserve us!" as he's torched by Balreth. Shouldn't this be "Divines preserve us!" instead? Ancestor worship is more of a Altmer and Dunmer thing.
- An NPC in Senie mentions that kwama cuttle is a waxy substance from kwama "beaks". To be honest, I like the word beak because it makes the kwama sound like more than just an insect and also sounds like a colloquial phrase eggminers would use, buuuuuut technically shouldn't this be "mandibles"?
- There are spiders in Stonefalls. It fits with Mephala's influence in Dunmer culture and Morrowind's insectoid fauna certainly, but somehow I pictured some weird Morrowind species of spider instead of the giant black widows we see everywhere else in the game. Maybe something a quick texture job could fix?