Alice’s Adventures in The Shivering Isles: Part 4
New Sheoth, The Town So Nice They Named It Once
In part three of this game diary Alice met Sheogorath, god of madness and ruler of the Shivering Isles. Then she got annoyed at his accent and poked him with a fork, so he magicked her up into the sky and she fell to her death. That last part was actually a dream she conveniently woke from, like many of the stranger things that happen to Alice, because happily her life comes with the ability to save and load.
Alice snaps out of a daydream about doing violence to Sheogorath to find herself falling not out of the sky but into the dishy brown eyes of Sheogorath’s steward, Haskill. Haskill is explaining that the next stop on our tour of the Isles is Xedilian, which is some kind of trap designed to deal with the riff-raff of wannabe heroes who travel to the Isles looking for “mad loot”. Xedilian has been in disarray since the birth of the Gatekeeper, who used to keep adventurers out until we sort of murdered him on our way in.
Haskill’s not mad though. Everything he says is in the soothing tones of someone who isn’t delusional or Scottish. As the least insane people in the Isles Haskill and I have a lot in common, even if he looks slightly like an egg perched on a flower.
But Alice is a wilful girl, who does what almost every player of an Elder Scrolls game does the moment they’re lured into one of the main questlines: she wanders off to explore, and by explore I mean go shopping. I get a new outfit, which is the least pervy dress I could find out of all the user-made mods to suit a schoolgirl. Make fun of the bow on the back and she’ll cut you.
The first people we meet while exploring the Bliss side of New Sheoth are beggars. Maybe this is a sign the place isn’t so blissful; maybe having the god of insanity in charge doesn’t lead to perfect social order after all.
This first chap is a crazy lizard man – I should stop calling these people crazy, not because it’s offensive but because it applies to all of them and is therefore redundant – named Big Head. He’s mad keen for forks, a collector of them, and is currently sneaking around Bliss searching for his lost Fork of Horripilation. Alice already found it back in part one, but decides to hang on to it for a while longer. She’s always enjoyed being mean to lizards.
The next beggar is sat by his bedroll, where he sleeps under the stars. Alice spots an opportunity to be helpful. Remember that fellow from earlier on who was afraid of sleeping indoors because he was convinced the walls would collapse on him? Perhaps this beggar would be interested in swapping his bedroll in the street for a nice house – slightly used, one owner, completely bonkers? The beggar doesn’t trust us, or this nonsensical offer, however.
We could bribe him into trusting us or play the silly Speechcraft minigame, but there’s one other way. Like all Imperials, Alice has a power she can use once a day to make people like her. Which would make the Empire a very friendly place, you’d think. It’s a green glowy charm she can cast on touch that works like this.
Why would he want to sleep in a bedroll and give me his bed? Sounds queer. I bet it’s just another trick to get my head all twisted round.
In Looking-Glass Land I’m a queen, so everyone should just do as I damn well say. ZAP.
Well, it sounds fishy, but I suppose I can trust you.
It works and the beggar’s bedroll is swapped for a house. Quest complete: I am the queen of real estate. However, I’ve only seen half of New Sheoth so far. There’s still Crucible on the Dementia side to be explored.
It’s grimier and darker than Bliss, although partly that’s because it’s night-time when Alice opens the gates. There aren’t many people around, except for yet another beggar. This one speaks gibberish, which Alice happens to be fluent in. He tells us where the Fork of Horripilation can be found, which we already know since we already found it.
It’s in our pockets. My precious.
Here’s another charming local. His name is Hirrus Clutumnus and he’s got a quest for us. One that’s bound to require bravery and strength.
I need your help. I need you to send my soul away from this world! You must… you must kill me.
Just like the people in Split, Hirrus thinks I look like a murderer because I walk around with a big sword covered in the blood of my enemies strapped to my back. The other thing Hirrus has in common with the Splitizens is that he’s terrified of the Hill of Suicides, where Sheogorath exiles the souls of people who top themselves. I really must check out the Hill of Suicides some time. It sounds charming. Bet there’s a little bistro with a view and everything.
Meanwhile, Alice hears the sound of cheering coming from overhead. She leaves Hirrus to his moping and climbs some stairs to discover what the people of Crucible do to entertain themselves at night.
What they do is engage in clumsy fistfights. They’ve formed a little club for it and everything. They won’t talk to me about their club, though. Apparently that’s their first rule? Well, sod them then. We’ll make our own fun.
Look, there’s our new friend Hirrus now, standing on a ledge looking down on the city, sighing about how sad he is, all alone. The way he sighs really makes me want to give him a shove. That wouldn’t be so bad, would it? Death is what he wants after all. I’d be doing him a favour.
I’m helping! Oh, watch out for the tree on your way down. Ouch! Well, never mind.
Turning around, Alice notices that one of Crucible’s guards was standing behind her the entire time. The Dementia counterpart of the Golden Saints, they’re called the Dark Seducers. Needless to say, they’re dressed appropriately. This particular guard just witnessed me commit an assisted suicide. Am I about to get arrested?
Happens all the time.
Guess not. Our reward for this quest is a shiny ring that’s apparently a ‘ring of happiness’. Obviously it didn’t work very well for its previous owner, even though it has a shopping list of magical abilities.
Wait, “Water Walking on Self”? I can walk on water now? Does this mean I’m the messiah? How lovely. Loaves and fishes for everyone!
The messiah probably shouldn’t spend all of her time meandering around town wasting time on bizarre sidequests, though. She should really be leaving New Sheoth and looking for Xedilian. Remember that? We have to trek through Dementia to find the trap for adventurers and put it back together before the Shivering Isles are flooded with plebs now that the Gatekeeper isn’t protecting it because I sort of killed him a teeny little bit.
Dementia is a gloomy, swampy place full of muck and mist and twisted trees whose twisted roots erupt from the ground all twisty-like. On the way we find the glamorous New Sheoth Graveyard. I take Alice to all the nicest places. At least it has humourous tombstones for the edification of tourists. Here are what some of them have to say:
“Helene the Deaf. She never heard it coming.”
“Here lies Blaise Sette. Faster than the wind, dumber than a stump.”
“Lob gro-Murgob died. We ate him and buried the bones here.”
The assisted suicide we took part in? He’s already been buried.
Buried the same night you die, that’s prompt service.
Other highlights of Dementia tourists should look out for are the ponds full of killer frog-men and the wandering packs of skinless dogs that hunt over the hills. It’s not quite as scenic as Mania and its giant mushrooms, even if some of them looked like they might have smug talking caterpillars on them.
Sticking to the roads of Dementia, which are patrolled by Dark Seducers, is safest. That soon gets us to the point on the map marked ‘Xedilian’. Turns out it’s a dungeon. Sheogorath used to lure adventurers who had come to the Isles here and then torment them. He was basically using his godly powers to play Dungeons & Dragons.
The reason Xedilian doesn’t work any more is that its siren lure that calls to adventurers is powered by magic crystals, and those frog-men Grummites love the shiny things. A whole tribe has moved in to worship the crystals, which they do by pulling them apart and putting them on sticks. Alice performs some stabbings, drives out the Grummites, and wedges the crystals back where they belong to get the place powered up again.
This brings the spooky curator of Xedilian out of hiding.
He’s been hiding since the Grummites moved in, like the one quiet housemate who waits for everyone else to go out before leaving his room. It used to be his job to process adventurers who would come to the Isles thinking the domain of a god would be full of treasure; he’d put them through a series of challenges that either drove them mad so they’d fit in with the local population or killed them if they were unworthy. Xedilian is basically the only deathtrap dungeon in a fantasy game that actually makes sense.
The magical lure it sends out works so well that our first batch of adventurers have already shown up. Again, the Isles may be crazy but at least the service is prompt. To thank us for fixing the place, the curator hands over control to Alice as we observe from a platform while the party enters the dungeon. In each room we have the option to subject them to either Dementia, which means violence and death, or Mania, which means trickery and madness – apparently they’re sent loony by a combination of powerful illusion spells and Mania spores harvested from the giant fungus of the Isles.
Those glowing spores I’ve been breathing in ever since I came here? They mustn’t work very well. I haven’t been behaving erratically at all.
Three adventurers enter – a wizard, rogue, and barbarian. What, no cleric? Definitely doomed.
The first challenge they face is a gnarl, one of the tree monsters that infest the Isles. Only this one is tiny and harmless, just a tree baby, which the adventurers think is cute. Our options are to either unleash a deadly swarm of the things, or use an illusion to make this one baby gnarl grow into a monster. I forget, is it “eat me” or “drink me” to make things embiggened?
When the spell ends and the heroes realise they just ran away from a twig, the rogue fails his sanity check and his fragile mind is instantly broken somehow. Perhaps these spores work after all? Realising his weakness the other heroes casually leave him behind, which does sound like something that would happen in a typical game of D&D.
Behind the next door the heroes find a treasure room, with a mountain of gold locked in a cage. Again, there’s a choice. Either we can drop a flood of keys on them, none of which open the cage, driving them mad as they search fruitlessly forever. Or, less subtly, set off the fireball trap.
Less subtle, but more fun.
That turns the wizard to a crispy treat, leaving only the barbarian to enter the final trap, a grisly room full of corpses. We can either bring the dead back to life to kill this determined warrior, or use an illusion to make him think he’s joined them, and become a ghost. Alice chooses the second and looks down calmly as the barbarian finds his own body lying among the others and curls up to gibber on the floor.
That’s Xedilian, ladies and gentleman. I’m sure I was a nice person before I came here.
As every player of Dungeons & Dragons knows, at the end of the dungeon you get your loot. In this reverse dungeon we, the monsters, get to loot the heroes. That barbarian was carrying a magic sword he won’t be needing any more. It’s actually two swords combined together, called Duskfang and Dawnfang, with separate sets of magic powers. One activates during the day and the other at night. That mirroring symbolism of the Isles really is being taken seriously on every level. Also, the sword is huge and toothy and makes Alice look even more like a Japanese cartoon than she already did.
While we’re waving this new sword around thinking the only way to top off this pleasant evening of torment would be to stab some people with it, a group of armoured men calling themselves the Knights of Order storm Xedilian. How convenient! With help from the dagger-wielding curator and Duskfang’s frost damage, Alice handily defeats them.
The knights clank around as if there’s nobody inside the armour, but when they die they leave behind crystalline hearts. Alice picks one up before the curator quickly ushers us out of the dungeon and sends us back to the palace to warn Sheogorath about the arrival of these knights, whoever they are. He seems worried but won’t say why.
But there’s never any real need to rush in an Elder Scrolls game, especially not when there’s exploring to do. Alice takes the scenic route back across Dementia and manages to find the Hill of Suicides we’ve heard so much about. It’s inhabited by lost souls with nothing to say. It’s a little underwhelming, really. Just a bunch of untalking ghosts on a hill.
I was convinced there would be a bistro here.
Come back soon for part five, in which Alice meets a duke and a duchess and is involved in a palace intrigue that for once does not involve the kind of tarts you eat.
Part 1: We’re All Mad Here
Part 2: Splitsville
Part 3: The Fork Of Horripilation
Part 4: New Sheoth, The Town So Nice They Named It Once
Part 5: The Duchess & The Duke
Part 6: A Question Of Eating & Drinking
Part 7: Putting Him Together Again
Part 8: End At The Ending