Saturday, January 23, 2016

Oblivion Adventures Part 15: Strongest in the Universe-ity

Raminus Polus was having a very quiet day, which was just the way he liked it. As a Master-Wizard at the Arcane University, he had reached the point in his career where he could safely do whatever he wanted and not be questioned so long as he claimed it was important. He was currently researching the sociological progression the common populace went through when simultaneously exposed to fear, excitement, boredom, increased knowledge and a sense of knowledge far greater than the actual increase. To people not questioning his research, this was known as “reading the paper.”

Of course the only animation the game has is reading a book, but it’s a newspaper in SPIRIT.

“The courier really won’t stop going on about the business with the emperor” Raminus said as he lazily flicked a page to the side. “Obviously its big news, but they’ve got the same amount of information they had the last three weeks: none at all. Today they ran a column from their fashion editor speculating on what clothes he was wearing when he died, for Arkay’s sake. They’re scare-mongering on this even more than those nonsense Gray Fox rumors. Surely they’re aware it’s not helping to constantly talk about how Septim was brutally murdered? Honestly, the press these days. No sense of responsibility, eh Bothiel?”

Raminus finally looked up from his paper and sighed. He put his copy of the Black Horse Courier down on the bench beside him and repeated, much louder: “Bothiel.

The middle-aged wood elf woman across from him jerked awake. “Wha?! Er, yes, certainly. I agree with whatever you...” Bothiel paused and yawned.

Raminus shook his head. “Bothiel, even for you this is excessive. How long did you sleep last night?”

Bothiels brow furrowed over her half-lidded eyes in vague concentration. “It wasn’t that long this time, honest. Just a little over seven hours.”

Raminus raised an eyebrow. “Really, that’s it?”

“Yeah. With a midnight snack between the first and second seven, of course.”

Raminus’ eyes rolled skyward. “Well, what I was trying to say was that the state of the courier these days is deplorable.”

“Right, right.” Bothiel gave a limp-wristed conciliatory gesture. She yawned again, stretching her arms and rolling her neck around. “Speaking of news, you hear about the latest recruit down in Leyawin who turned necromancer?”

Raminus grimaced and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Have I heard?! Of course I’ve heard! You may be the only person in the university getting a good night’s rest these days, with the Archmage’s constant shouting. The man’s tense as a violin string dawn til dusk. I almost wish all this necromancy business would come to a head just to calm things down again.”

Bothiel gave a sleepy smile. “Hey, careful what you wish for. With all the incidents lately, there are enough of them to cause some serious trouble somewhere.”

“Ha. Not for long while Traven is around. The way he’s been acting I’m surprised any necromancers in a 500 mile radius don’t spontaneously combust.”

Bothiel nodded, then stood up and stretched her arms above her head. “Well, I think I can fit in a quick nap before dinner.”

“Dinner isn’t for another, what, three hours?”

“Was hoping for four, but I could handle three in a pinch. Try not to let your work overwhelm you.” She winked at him as she turned towards the door.

“I’ll survive somehow” Raminus said as he picked up the newspaper again. “Seems like another dull day around here, honestly.”


Four minutes and seventeen seconds later, Raminus heard a noise at the edge of his hearing, slowly rising in volume as it approached.







The first thing Raminus noticed was that the orc who had slammed open the doors was enormous. The second was the ponderous set of noisy steel armor that enveloped his person. Next was the unnervingly large warhammer peeking out from behind him. Well, it wasn’t so much peeking as staring him dead in the eye, unblinking. Then there was his face: A massive misshapen orange with a garishly purple top-knot, sunken eyes, an under-bite full of sharpened fangs, and a chin like the spearhead of giants.

What Raminus failed to notice until a few seconds later was that he’d dropped his newspaper and jumped back against the wall. The orc waved. Raminus regained his composure and stepped forward, clearing his throat.

“So, uh, what business have you at the Arcane University?”

“Shush are here on account of gettin all de reggie-mundane-tons dat he needed to be a real wizardy person at dis mage school place!”

“Aha, no I’m afraid there must be...some sort...of mis...take...Actually, wait a minute.”

Raminus walked back to his desk and rifled through some papers. He found the folder where he kept recent recommendations and looked through them again. He didn’t approve all of them himself, but he’d heard of some fairly unusual ones lately. After some silent searching, Raminus had found them all. There were recommendations from every single city in Cyrodil, all for a strange-looking orc. Raminus scanned the details in disbelief. They matched this newcomer perfectly.

“Well it all adds up. I’ve got recommendations written for you from all corners of the country. Although there must’ve been some delay in the postal service, this last one only got here hours ago, and they pride themselves on riding the fastest horses. At any rate, welcome! Shush, was it?”

“Yup! Shush’Ogar, dat’s me! So you is sayin dat Shush is a real mage wot can go in de fancy school now?”

“Yes, you’ve proven yourself worthy.”


Raminus winced and reflexively brought a hand to his ear for a moment. “You may, but be sure to come back soon. I need to tell you of opportunities you have to further increase your rank and-“


Raminus rubbed his face as the back door slammed shut. At least he was someone else’s problem for a while.


“Come now, Gaspar. You’re pulling my leg.”

“No, honest, I saw him out in the garden: A giant armored orc, apparently our newest addition. Seemed like he was picking a lot of plants, guess he’s into alchemy?”

Borissean the Redguard sat back in his chair, scratching his balding head in confusion. “How come I’ve never heard of this guy? An orc mage is rare enough these days, and he seems unusual even for an orc.”

Gaspar Stegine shrugged, the expression on his pale, wrinkled face obscured by his hood. “Honestly, no one else seems to know much either. I heard he’s been earning recommendations all over Cyrodil in record time. No idea if he’s a good mage, but he can certainly solve problems.”

“And you said he was last seen heading into the Mystic Archives? Hm. I wonder what kind of project he-“

All of a sudden, the doors to the building slammed open. In stepped Shush’Ogar, whose pack seemed even closer to bursting than normal. He looked around the room, saw the rows of alchemical desks covered in supplies, and immediately walked up to them. Grinning, he pulled off his pack and started stuffing alembics, soul gems, and just about everything of value into it.

“Whoa, hold on there!” said Borissean. “Who are you and what are you doing with all that?”

Shush turned to face him. “Hi! Shush is de newest mage-y person here! Shush did all his rebel-ten-graysons an de guy at de entrance said he’s a real mage who can see all de school stuff you guys got here!”

“Well that matches what I’ve heard...but why are you taking all those supplies?”

“Oh, are Shush not s’posed to? At de other mage-y places Shush could take all de supplies he wanted.”

“Well, I mean...technically you can, but...”

“Great!” Shush continued to stuff every single thing of value into his pack.

If you thought those other guild buildings were fountains of free money, the Arcane University is Niagara Falls. There’s an entire alchemy building (called the Lustatorium, because this place loves needlessly complex names) filled with high-level alchemy items. There’s a library stuffed with shelves upon shelves of rare and valuable books. The gardens are covered with all sorts of ingredients, and every other building is packed with miscellaneous gear and valuables. All of it is absolutely free to take, which continues to be ridiculous. I actually had to make two trips just to carry everything out to sell, and I was only moving the good stuff.

For example, this is the room before I looted it...

...and here’s a picture after. Imagine a similar fate of every room in the university.

“So, wot types a stuff happens in dis place?” said Shush to the dumbstruck wizards as he continued to fill his bag.

“Well...this is the Praxographical Center” said Borissean.

“De pracksy-wot?” said Shush.

“The Praxographical Center.”

“De proogzy-who?”

“The...look, it’s the place where we can develop custom spells.”

“OH BOY REALLY?!” Shush jumped up at this, spilling glasses, books and plants from his bag. “So Shush could make up any spells dat Shush wanted to?!”

“Well the process isn’t as simple as-“

“Okey so Shush wants a spell dat kills all de mudcrabs in like, all of de places ever!”

“That’s not how it works! You can only create spells based off of the ones you already know. We can make you new versions with different combinations and tweaked effects. Even then, it’s very expensive to-“

Shush pulled out one of his money bags and threw it down on the table. It landed with a chinking thud, a few gold coins spilling out of the overflowing opening and rolling across the table.

Borissean gulped. “Oh” he said. He looked over to Gaspar, then back to Shush. “Well, nevermind then. Let’s get started!”

And here we’ve reached custom spells, one of the two pillars of the Arcane Academy. It’s one of the reasons everyone should join the mage’s guild and do their quests, because it’s broken as hell. I don’t necessarily hold that against the game, however. They made an ambitious bid to give the player freedom in their playstyle and in general I love the idea of custom abilities. The results could definitely have been better balanced, but it’s nice that the option was there all the same. Especially given this features conspicuous absence in Skyrim.

How it works is that you can choose a list of spell effects from the ones you know. You select the duration and intensity of that spell effect, and then can add further spell effects if you wish. Finally, you choose whether the target of the spell is yourself, a ranged target or within touch range. Based on all these factors the game calculates the gold cost to make the spell (pretty trivial for anything you can actually use) and a magicka cost needed to cast the spell. The spell may also have skill requirements for whatever school of magic it’s most strongly associated with. If you didn’t follow all that, perhaps an example will help.

First, you customize a completely sensible and reasonable spell effect, like so...

Then you add various effects together. It helps to choose spells with good synergy and sensible costs. Feel free to follow my flawless example.

There are tons of ways to break the game with custom spells, more than I could ever list here. For example, you can stack similar spell effects. So from this point on, if I’m ever over-encumbered, I can just cast some sort of feather spell to increase my carry space. Let’s call that spell Carry Stuff 1. Am I still over-encumbered after that? Well then let’s cast a spell that does the exact same thing called Carry Stuff 2, and so on until I can fit all of the world’s calipers in a single bag.

Many of the other methods to exploit custom spells come from the editable duration. See there are plenty of times when you only need a buff for a short amount of time. For example, the entire speech system is broken by these spells because your stats freeze when talking to people. So you give yourself a spell that grants 1 second of Charm on touch, 100 plus Merchantile skill for 1 second and 100 plus Speechcraft for 1 second, and BAM! Congratulations, you now have a cheap-and-easy spell that completely bypasses any conversation skills forever. Here’s hoping you weren’t stupid enough to level those up.

For what it’s worth, I intentionally kept from breaking the game too much. It’s fun to be overpowered, but less fun to be invincible, especially over long periods of play. Besides, if I wanted to be untouchable I could just open up the in-game console commands and make myself literally invulnerable at any time. So instead of shattering the game to pieces, I merely...bent it a bit. Gave myself more efficient spells by tweaking effects and durations, added a few utility spells like one that maximizes speed for a sort of sprint button, that sort of thing.

...and I also gave myself that cheating charm spell, because screw this speech system.

“Whew! That sure was a workout” said Borissean, wiping his brow.

“But an extremely lucrative one” said Gaspar. He looked up from the massive mound of gold coins he was counting and stared thoughtfully at the door Shush had exited a couple minutes back.

“What do you think of the lad, Boris?”

The old Redguard leaned back against the wall, putting a hand to his chin and sucking in air through his teeth.

“Hard to say. The boy’s got a hide tougher than my mother-in-law’s brisket, pockets deeper than a drop from the top of Mount Jerall, and a well of enthusiasm so vast you can practically feel it radiating off of him.”

Gaspar twirled a coin his hand absentmindedly. “Seems a bit stupid, though.”

“Oh there’s no bit about it. He’s slower than a molasses-foot mudcrab. If he can’t find a way to fix that, he’ll have trouble with the whole ‘mage’ part of being a battlemage.”

Gaspar thought back to the imposing hammer the orc carried as he flipped a coin and caught it on the way down. “Hm. And how do you think he’ll fare on the ‘battle’ half of things?”

Borissean grimaced. “Let’s just hope we can point him away from us.”


A couple buildings over in the Chironasium, head enchanter Delmar was having a similarly dumbstruck meeting.

“Where did you get all these soul gems?!” he cried, hand to his forehead.

“Oh, lotsa places!” Shush said. “Like dese ones was from a dead necromancer, and dis one was from an old ruin-y place wit a buncha swingy blades, an dis was behind some angry trolls at de bottom of a cave an dis was in one of dose demon lava towers an-“

Delmar held up a hand for Shush to stop. “Alright, alright. I get the idea. But even though you have the necessary materials, and good quality at that, I can’t just enchant a full set of armor for you. Especially for those higher level enchantments, this business can be quite expensive.”

Shush grinned, pulled another bag of gold from his pack, and plopped it down on the table.

Delmar gave him a rueful smile. “Even more than that, I’m afraid. High level enchantments are devilishly complex, some of the most expensive work in the capital, let alone the university. Perhaps you can make use of at least one of these greater gems if you save up for-“

“Hang on” said Shush, rooting through his pack. “Shush’ll start pulling out his big bags.”

Delmar’s glanced over at the previous bag and his eyes bulged. By his estimate, it contained one or two thousand septims.

“B...big bags?” he said.

*CaTHUNK!*, *jingle*, *jangle*.

Delmar was staring so intently at the bloated bag of coins sitting in front of him that he hadn’t even noticed the skulls spilling out of Shush’s pack. The sack of septims staring him in the face was something like twice the size of Delmar’s head.

“So how many of dese bags does Shush need to give you?”


“How about now? Is de armor done now?!”

“YES, already! Asking me a hundred times didn’t speed anything up, this is delicate work. Here you are.”

Shush was positively vibrating with excitement as he picked up the last of his custom enchanted armor: “The SupaSmart Clanky Clothes.” Delmar cried in dismay and disgust as the orc started changing in front of him, and averted his eyes. After a fair bit of clanging and banging, Shush went silent again and Delmar turned around. The orc was looking over his new armor with a perplexed expression.

“Shush don’t feel any different. Shush isn’t thinkin more smarter, either.”

“Well you know what they say about wisdom and intelligence.”

That wisdom is a negligible concept and that intelligence is a poorly implemented stat mechanically speaking? Sorry, I’ll get back into character.

“No, wot do dey say? An who is dey? Why is dey sayin stuff to Shush?”

Delmar walked up to Shush with a piece of paper. Written on it were a several paragraph story and multiple complex long division problems. Delmar handed Shush the pen and gestured towards the page. In a couple seconds, the orc wrote down several numbers with very long decimals, then looked back at Delmar.

“Shush dunno wot he s’posed to do wit de words. Dere was a story about a prince or somethin, a lotta talkin, some songs, an a big fight at de end.”

Delmar took back the scroll of parchment with a triumphant grin. “Well there you have it. You just solved three complicated mathematical equations AND read a short story in a matter of seconds.”

Shush’s face brightened. “Oh hey, Shush did! Dat’s neat, Shush didn’t even notice. De symbols an numbers just lined up in Shush’s brain all quick-like. Thanks, mister enchant-man!”

“Oh, it was my pleasure, my new friend!” Delmar glanced down at the literal pile of gold coins sitting on his floor, as there wasn’t enough room on the table. “My pleasure.”

First off, I’d just like to point out that Shush’s newest change is totally canonical with the game. There is an intelligence stat. There is a willpower stat. There is no wisdom stat.

Okay technically I enchanted his clothes with Fortify Magicka instead of intelligence. But literally the only difference is that Fortify Intelligence gives you less magicka, because this game is stupid.

Enchanting is the other big reason to join the guild. In fact, I’m pretty insulted that only mages can do this. You can put any enchantment you’ve seen on every weapon and piece of armor you own. This is hugely useful for ANY character. Playing through this game without joining the guild means you’ll have to go through dozens of dungeons hoping to get some (comparatively inferior) enchanted gear that maybe, just maybe, will be more-or-less useful. You also can’t make any use of the pre-filled soul gems you find as random loot, or the rare sigil stones you get every time you clear an Oblivion gate. Skyrim went ahead and made enchanting something anyone can do, and that is absolutely for the best.

The way enchanting works is basically the same as custom spells but for permanent effects. You place passive effects on armor and offensive ones on weapons.  This has a gold cost, which is one of the biggest cash sinks in the game, though still trivial for me. It also requires you to use up a soul gem or sigil stone. You obtain these by finding them or using the soul trap spell on an enemy. They have tiers of effectiveness which determine how strong the enchantment is. Once again, I enlist the aid of visual mediums what with the eye-looking and such.

Behold! I come bearing more menus with which to edit numbers! Feel free to squeal with delight.

Enchanting is also like custom spells in that it contains a large number of ways to break the game. One example is the chameleon enchantment. Chameleon works like invisibility, except it isn’t broken by performing actions. This would normally be fine, as chameleon only gives you a partial percentage of invisibility. However, using multiple strong enchantments you can bump this number up to 100% or more. This means that no one will ever be able to see or attack you, even when you’re smashing a blunt instrument and their faces together like dolls pretending to kiss. And since this is a passive enchantment, you are permanently immune to any sort of consequences.

For Shush, I avoided this and any other ridiculously game-breaking enchantments. Instead, I merely boosted some areas he had deficiencies in, like magic. I also added a weapon enchantment that did 1 point of damage. Why bother with such a small enchant, you ask? Well here’s the thing: Weapon enchantments, unlike armor ones, have a limited amount of juice to them. Swing your enchanted lead pipe at enough fools who disrespect your legitimate business, and eventually the magic will run out and it’ll merely break kneecaps instead of also setting them on fire. It’s still worth it to enchant though, as the various types of ghost can only be damaged by weapons if they’re enchanted. And because this game is silly, they’re damaged by the weapon even if it has no charge. Not that I’m complaining, because being unable to hit ghosts is nonsense anyway.

So now Shush is all geared up with some amusingly overpowered spells and armor. Seeing the path of destruction he carves with them will have to wait, but I do have a parting gift for you all. Seeing as I was already in-game taking screenshots, I decided to bring back a souvenir. For the very first time, I present a picture of our handsome dashing passable interesting protagonist.

A face many could love, but only while he’s still holding that hammer.

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