A Fool In Morrowind, Day 9 – The Last Dwarf

By Alec Meer on July 13th, 2009 at 2:56 pm.

Agent Loaf returns, after a brief hiatus so RPS could spend some quality time documenting its own history. Now, my plan with this series had been to avoid the core narrative for as long as possible (even though it’s something I never got around to the first time I played Morrowind.) Then a funny thing happened. It became compelling. Based on how unsatisfactory I’d found Oblivion and Fallout 3′s main plotlines to be, this was not something I’d been expecting. It also puts me in the unusual position of narrativising someone else’s narrative -a starkly different prospect to diarising my own haphazard experiences. If you’ve not ever played Morrowind and still intend to, be aware that here be spoilers…

When someone tells you that you might just be a god… well, that sticks in your craw. My raison d’etre to date has been entirely materialistic, but the growing frequency with which random nutters and even my own trusted contacts have made noises about my possible divine origins have awoken a hunger for metaphysical fulfilment too. So, I put aside my lockpicks for a time and went off in search of answers.

Later.

Something went horribly wrong. I’ve been infected by the most feared disease in the land. Corprus is an awful flesh-eating, flesh-twisting malady with no know cure. Small wonder I caught it, really, given I’ve lately been fighting things like this:

Yeah, he’s probably not big on the personal hygiene, is he? Corprus is horribly infectious, and anyone who contracts it suffers monstrous physical and mental collapse. Strangers run from me in terror, and even my friends (well, contacts. But they’re the closest a light-fingered egoist such as I has to friends) stare in horror and refuse to talk to me. I really don’t feel much like a god right now.

On the plus side, the time I’ve spent working for the Blades, the Emperor’s secret spy ring, affords me access to information that the average monsterised civilian doesn’t benefit from. Pro: there may be a cure after all. Con: to find out about it, I have to visit the top floor of a tower without any stairs, and with a basement full of violent-tempered Corprus victims. Dammit – can’t someone just send me a potion on a Silt-Strider? I’m supposed to be a god, people! Do what I damn-well say!

However, it’s my contacts’ constant, worried highlighting of that lack of stairs that restores my wounded pride somewhat. You’ll need to be able to fly to reach the guy who can help, they say. Have this potion that makes you levitate for a bit, but if you waste ‘em you’re screwed… Hah. I don’t need any measly potions – for I wear The Red Bull upon my possibly-divine head.

Named after a mythical but foul-tasting potion rumoured to make the imbiber incredibly twitchy but also give them temporary “wings”, this glass helm is the major fruit of the epic thieving sprees brought about by Power-Hat. A stolen Soul Gem containing the essence of a Daedric Lord and a frightening amount of money was spent on enchanting this impressive piece of armour with the power of flight. With it, I can soar across the skies for 30 seconds at a time. Well, I say soar, but “shuffle across the horizon like a geriatric cliff racer” would be more apt. The Red Bull grants me access to, essentially, anywhere in this land, but the wings it gives me sure ain’t quick. No matter – it’s enough to conquer this stairless tower.

The tower of Divayth Fyr is a sinister place. It stands alone in the fungal wilderness, a long way from civilization. In its antechambers stand four blank-eyed, beautiful young women. The first implies she may be Fyr’s lover. As do the others. Upon activating The Red Bull to levitate up to Fyr himself, a darker truth than mere bigamy is revealed. These are his daughters, magically grown, somehow, from his own near-immortal flesh. Yet also his lovers. Maybe. I might just be paranoid.

Brrr. I smile though gritted teeth, wanting for all the world to smack this incestuous, self-worshipping bigamist around his ancient chops with the mighty blade Optimus Slice. I have to be polite, alas, or I shall never be rid of Corprus. Or ‘the Divine Disease’, as Fyr insists on calling it – believing it to be the physical manifestation of the dark god Dagoth Ur’s mark. He too senses there’s something otherworldly about me, and that this may be the key to realising the Corprus cure that’s eluded him until now.

Of course, he’s not just going to give me the fix. Even immortal wizards need errand boys, it transpires. To the Corprusarium with me!

The Corprusarium is Fyr’s basement-level refuge/prison for Corprus victims. It’s quickly apparent it’s more zoo than hospital – dark, dirty and dangerous, and clearly designed more for voyeurism than medicine. I’m oddly relieved I already have Corprus – the worst that could happen to me by visiting this awful place has already happened. I’m under strict instruction not to attack any of the inmates, which seems fair enough. Unfortunately, they’re under no such orders, meaning I have to endure the slings and arrows of outrageously mutated monster-men. I’m more glad than I’ve ever been of Power-Hat, which means I can at least escape their foetid blows without raising a fist in anger myself.

There’s also a ton of awesome loot down here – it’s so fearful a place that other ‘adventurers’ have either kept a way or fallen prey to the roaming sickies. In particular, I pick up an incredible piece of chest armour, though I’m intensely annoyed that it doesn’t match the rest of my cosmically crystalline Glass Armour. None of these trinkets can, however, hold a candle to the wonder and horror of my true goal in the Corprusarium – The Last Dwarf.

There’s much debate about what the Dwemer really are. Are they their own race of squat, bearded humanoids, or yet another subset of the elves so common in Tamriel? Despite being the last of his people, Yagrum Bagarn doesn’t provide much in the way of answers. Whatever the Dwemer were, he doesn’t look like it any more.

The Last Dwarf – the only living link to a civilization that defines Tamriel’s history, and one that mysteriously, horribly disappeared en masse aeons ago. Time has not been kind:

The last dwarf suffers from a morbid case of Corprus. While his face and his mind have yet survived the disease’s worst ravages, his body is bloated, monstrous and useless. Only that incredible Dwemer technology – of the sort that created Power-Hat – keeps his life worthwhile. His bloated, cracked-skin bulk rests upon metal spider-legs, though it’s clear that given the choice he remains stationary. Too dangerous and too unwell to roam the surface, his only options are death or the untender ministrations of Divayth Fyr and his clone-daughters. In return for the latter, he performs services – explaining and repairing the Dwemer artifacts and technology that Sickboy upstairs is so strangely obsessed with collecting.

I’ll confess I’ve not cared a jot for the lore of this land before now. It largely seems to be very simple concepts unnaturally stretched over unwieldy speeches and too many pages of the history books that fill the stores and homes of Vvardenfell: far too much information, and so detached from my own existence. The Last Dwarf, though – that really fascinates me. To come face-to-face with something spoken of only in confused myths and whispers is almost a miracle. In general, whenever I meet any hitherto unencountered species, it tries to kill me. This one looks like nothing I’ve ever seen before, but he also talks.

Sadly, he doesn’t know what happened to the rest of his people. He suspects it was a botched experiment to depart the physical realm, but whether the Dwemer still live in another form or have simply been atomised is beyond him. I feel a great swell of pity for this lonely, sickly survivor, even as I silently fill my pockets with his rare possessions. He’s not only the last of his kind, but he’s also an embarrassment to them – what a sad legacy of a once-great race.

After disconsolately sharing what little secrets he does know, the Last Dwarf hands me the artifact Fyr sent me to collect – Dwemer flying boots. As I inspect them, my sadness grows. They’re less powerful than The Red Bull. I fear that, should I tell him a hat enchanted by a random, greedy thief not long out of jail trumps one of the last artifacts of his lost race, that would be the final straw for his miserable life. Best to leave, and to keep this poor creature’s existence a secret.

Fyr cures me of Corprus (or, at least, of its negative effects – apparently I still carry a non-infectious strain of the disease, which has the side-effect of granting me immunity to all other illnesses. Proof of my godhood appears to be growing…), but, as I fly my now-healthy body off to new adventures, I can’t say I feel terribly celebratory.

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102 Comments »

  1. AK says:

    Yick. I’d have put ol’ mechanical spider legs out of his misery.

  2. Howard says:

    This is just making me lament this enforced week away from my PC even more. I’ve just gotten into my current play through of Morrowind, Oblivion and Fallout 3 and was thoroughly enjoying the lot.

    GAH! Make the days go faster!

  3. phil says:

    I remember this bit, I stopped playing shortly after as a time sensitive rock door refused to open and left me stuffed. I agree that nothing I encountered had quite the same poignancy as the dwarf, trapped in his ‘resident evil’ dungeon, left to chat away to zombies and nutty mages.

    I seem to remember there was a girl to save in the house above, and freeing her provoked the mage into foolishly attacking you, it was a shame you couldn’t burn the tower down after you killed him, the place freaked me out.

  4. ilves says:

    meeting the last dwemer is one of the high points in the game for me… you go through so many old dwemer ruins, hear about how they disappeared in some type of grand magical experiment, and then suddenly you come across the last one. But even he doesn’t do much to shed light on anything, just sits in a dark cave with a bunch of diseased, insane cell mates.

  5. ilves says:

    @Phil

    Yea, the door only opens at certain time of the day, and even then, its a little particular. You basically have to sit there and wait in 1 hr increments and keep trying to enter until you can.

  6. MasterBoo says:

    The Last Dwarf was the top of Morrowind’s story as well. Was really inspired by this part.

  7. Ian says:

    Aww. :(

  8. Antistar says:

    The lore in Morrowind, being part of the incredible feat of world creation achieved with the game, is one of the things that makes it my favourite game of all time. BUT – a lot of the lore only sunk in incredibly gradually, over a number of ‘play-throughs’ (didn’t always include the main quest).

    The thing that really made me realise how amazing the lore/world-creation in Morrowind is – and how well it all fits together right down to the smallest details of the architecture, creatures, cultures, etc – was when I (ahem) wrote Frost in Morrowind, and had to pay that much more attention to it all…

    Hey… just realised that the other day marks the third anniversary of when I finally finished writing that bloody thing – and so the fourth anniversary of when I started it.

  9. Jesse says:

    >>I’ll confess I’ve not cared a jot for the lore of this land before now. It largely seems to be very simple concepts unnaturally stretched over unwieldy speeches and too many pages of the history books that fill the stores and homes of Vvardenfell: far too much information, and so detached from my own existence.<<

    The beauty of it is you don't have to read any of it; the sad part is, most players probably didn't. You're missing out on a great work by some very talented people. If Bethesda didn't have a scholar of world mythology on their team I'd be very surprised. They drew from all kinds of sources to create a realistic, layered, multi-faceted mythology for an imaginary world. Book collecting was one of my favorite activities. There are series of books, secret books, hidden all over the world, and it was always a thrill to find, on the bottom level of a necromancer's tower, the missing volume from my collection of, say, 'A Dance in Fire'. Books are your main source of information for what really happened to the original Nerevar, and even if you can find all the books – ancient, rare books, some of them poetry, some collected songs of the Ashlanders, some written in the nearly incomprehensible style of the Dwemer themselves – even then you only have pieces of the puzzle, broken fragments of many viewpoints. Each writer has his own agenda. It's amazing to me that any game company dared to spend the time and effort to do this. It's clearly a labor of love and a result of great care, skill, and real-world mythological erudition. And you're just one more ignorant barbarian tromping around on top of it, unaware of the frame in which your actions take place. The last dwarf is a glimpse of what you're missing.

  10. Heliocentric says:

    Living with corpus is really the way forwards. With some restoration magic the disease is actually a massive boon. Eventually you are so strong the concept of weight requirements cease to cross your mind.

  11. Schadenfreude says:

    Pity the Temple felt the urge to censor The Real Barenziah. Reading that in Daggerfall caught me by surprise.

  12. Duckmeister says:

    Soon, everyone will be enslaved by the might of the POWERHAT!

  13. Clovus says:

    Having the lore there is great for people who want to read it, but I wish each book came with a tl;dr at the end. I mean, the basic plotline of the siege of Troy is interesting, but that doesn’t mean you have to read The Illiad.

    The underlying mythology/history in some RPGs is great, but I’m hardly going to read through all those boring stories. So many of them are just generic and badly written.

    They also need pictures in the books. Less words, more pictures. When I play RPGSs, my character is always slightly retarded. I clap when things go boom….

  14. Alec Meer says:

    The lore is impressive in terms of the clear passion behind it and a lot of the ideas in there, but I do think it’s poorly presented.

    And that’s in terms of both the sheer, overwhelming quantity of it, which creates an artificial barrier to those interested in the world’s backstory, but not wanting to totally, totally submerge themselves in it (I frown sternly at anyone who claims it simply comes down to a binary split between people who read and people who don’t; I read thousands of words on and offline everyday, y’know?), and in the practicals of presentation – everything from the font to the book design and interface. It’s just an oppressive mountain of stuff, not an encouragement to find out more.

    That’s a real shame, because clearly there is some wonderful stuff there, but it’s presented in this anachronistic, bloated, almost outside-of-the-game way. On that other hand, that it is optional is bang-on the right decision. The last Dwemer is a powerful moment precisely because it’s a very rare example of TES showing its elaborate backstory rather than dryly telling at absurd length. It’s being a videogame, not simply a book clumsily displayed on a monitor.

  15. Bob says:

    I hope your rubbed that bloke’s belly for good luck lol

  16. Woges says:

    What ever happened to The Theoretical Whirling School Of Vivec? There used to be some good sites on Morrowind’s lore, and you can see some of it archived through this link at the Imperial Library: http://www.imperial-library.info/cgi-bin/yabb2/YaBB.pl?num=1197073599

  17. Evernight says:

    Before you left the tower you should have nabbed the Curiass of Saviour’s Hide from the closet near the hole. Great piece of light armor with 60% magic resist. I haven’t played this game in over 5 years, but I remember that very well…. because I stole it every time.

  18. Woges says:

    You only ever really needed to go as far as you wanted with the lore it just tends to go on and on if you want to keep looking. I don’t think you could do it many other ways because the ‘ancient world’ mythology that it’s set in.

  19. Duckmeister says:

    I remember when I played Oblivion I opened up one of the thousands of books because it had a semi-intriguing title. I then saw the following sentence:

    “Because of the various inaccuracies of previous legends on the various so-called ‘races’ and ‘ages’ of the ancient elven populace, we have devoted the entirety of the beginning monologue to dispelling the various inaccuracies of previous legends on the various so-called ‘races’ and ‘ages’ of the ancient elven populace.”

    That was the first step of many that took me down the “oh wow uninstall this game hastily” path.

  20. Sunjammer says:

    Totally agree on the lore stuff. It’s just really poorly presented. You wade in books and books of it. I almost wish they had, pardon me, adopted the amnesiac hero approach so characters would have a reason to tell you what’s going on.

  21. alseT says:

    “Dwarves”? “atomized”? That must’ve been one hell of a drawbridge accident ^^

  22. Clovus says:

    It also bothered me that all the books were the old nearly blind person’s version. Who writes a book with with 6 lines of text per page? And why am I reading a “book” that only has 10 of these pages? I just want to read the jacket cover. There has to be a better of presenting the mythology of a world than that.

  23. Tei says:

    I have never met this dude. How awesome!.. hehehe.. good old morrowind, full of awesome secrets :-)

  24. Kieron Gillen says:

    You can talk to the monsters? Now that *is* something.

    KG

  25. Magnus says:

    CYBERDEMON!

    ahem.

    Also, really wish I hadn’t lost my copy of Morrowind.

    Still, I have Daggerfall to play (for free!).

  26. Supraliminal says:

    So you ditched your Power Hat after all, just to fly places and to become god. Bah.

    Being invisible is way cooler, I say. Even if it drains your mana and makes you look like a giant, metal vegetable…

    Bah.

    Maybe I would go the god road too.

  27. Serondal says:

    Personally I liked the book approach because it didn’t force you to learn any of the lore if you didn’t want to. you could beat the game without reading a single book (other than getting the skill gains from them which doesn’t really require you to read the text) That having been said I also enjoyed getting the books in Oblivion that you need to find a way to the bad guys hide out and figuring out for yourself what the hidden message is without any help from NPCS.

  28. jalf says:

    I don’t think you could do it many other ways because the ‘ancient world’ mythology that it’s set in.

    Yeah, in the same way that you couldn’t do it many other ways than Doom’s end-of-episode wall-of-text if you wanted to tell a story in a FPS.

    BS. Of course you can do it better and differently. Several RPG’s have managed it. It does require the developer to think in terms of game rather than novel, but it can certainly be done, and it is such a shame the art continually eludes Bethesda.

    Like Alec said, there’s actually some good stuff in Morrowind’s back story and setting. It’s just a shame you’re rarely presented with it during the actual game. It really is like Doom’s walls of text. You play for a while, find a book, stop playing to read the text you’re presented with, and then resume playing. Rinse and repeat.

  29. Kieron Gillen says:

    Agreed with Jalf. Our biggest founding myths of our culture are everywhere in the world.

    KG

  30. Serondal says:

    This just goes to show you that people can complain about anything. I honestly never thought I would see someone complain about opening a book and seeing a wall of text O.o

  31. Adventurous Putty says:

    That’s a real shame, because clearly there is some wonderful stuff there, but it’s presented in this anachronistic, bloated, almost outside-of-the-game way. On that other hand, that it is optional is bang-on the right decision. The last Dwemer is a powerful moment precisely because it’s a very rare example of TES showing rather than dryly telling at absurd length. It’s being a videogame, not simply a book clumsily displayed on a monitor.

    Now you’re onto something, Mr. Meer. I was waiting for this sort of revelation.

    Ask any TES lore fan — and there’s entire communities of them out there, arguing over minutiae ranging from in-game societal structures to the more esoteric metaphysics expounded upon in books like the 36 Sermons and out-of-game developer fiction — how they got into the stuff, and they’ll have a story like yours. The beauty of TES is that the depth is just THERE, completely optional and ready to be accessed.

    But, of course, you’ve also touched upon TES’s greatest problem — how to “show” the lore, or encourage its consumption, while still leaving it optional, as an emergent player experience. Morrowind struggled with the problem (although it attempted to portray its world rather admirably, as shown by things like the architecture and little moments like Yagrum Bagarn), and Oblivion didn’t even try. TES as a series has enormous potential to be something more than the occasional bestseller/potboiler fantasy RPG — it just has to reach such a balance.

    Anyway, glad to see you ‘ve finally “seen” Morrowind.

  32. wheres_my_gun says:

    alright, that’s it. I’m reinstalling.

  33. GeoffB says:

    As mentioned by one of the other posters, Corprus can be abused to grant your character essentially infinite strength, assuming you have restoration magic or items on hand. Rest, take the ability penalties, gain the bonuses, fix the damage, and then once you’ve reached your desired level of Hulkdom, you take the cure, and lose -only- the negative effects. The strength sticks around, and you can kick ass and haul treasure from here to Dagoth Ur’s firey door.

  34. James S says:

    My background gets the label “historian”, so I’m used to trudging through masses of badly written, contradictory evidence about dimly remembered events.

    As a result, IMO, the contradictions and highly variable readability of the various books comes to me as utterly real. Yes, it can be a pain to sift through, but that’s the nature of research.

    As a result, while it may not provide “show” for the backstory itself, it definitely provides (to me at least) “show” for the world in the game, directly demonstrating that various writers with differing viewpoints, agendas, and degrees of information are recording events in fragments.

    I’d find the whole a lot less convincing if there were a single, easy-to-read, authoritative source on backstory.

  35. Taillefer says:

    Did you ever find more information on the fate of the Dwarves in previous play-throughs? I’m not sure if you can stumble on the information by accident, I imagine so. But you can get a certain quest after advancing through the mages guild, which is basically to find out what happened.

  36. Yougiedeggs says:

    I just started as a Khajit Acrobat.
    Silly to start a game of Morrowind before I have no PC for a month….

  37. Woges says:

    The very structure of games means that the cliché ‘rinse and repeat’ can be used for any game. Different people prefer different methods it’s a subjective argument. For people that like to read I can’t really see reading as a problem. If you prefer your themes integrated with the occupants and a show don’t tell method it’s not for you. You can be as myopic on methods of portraying narrative/lore/story as you like but you won’t ever get everyone to agree that a singular method is ‘right’ for all cases.

  38. antonymous says:

    The ninth in a series of blatant advertisement ‘blogs’…

    And it only accentuates that it is because of the brain degeneration and random sillyness of Bethesdas designs that RPGs are going down :(

  39. Vinraith says:

    I came in here to say what James S said, but less clearly.

  40. Serondal says:

    Morrowind shows and tells both. There are books that you can read if you feel like taking the time out to learn more, but you also learn a great deal about the history of the game just by playing it. You learn about the different houses, the nobility, the conquest of the country by the Empire, you learn about the nomads, yourself, Vivec ect without having to read any books. I think most people complaining about the game probably haven’t played it enough to really give an informed opinion on the subject.

  41. matte_k says:

    I seem to remember there being a hidden library of “banned” books in Vivec, somewhere under the Ordinators offices. You have to sneak in invisible if you can, but most of the books detail what really happened with Vivec, Sotha Sil, Almalexia and the others on Red Mountain years ago. It’s been banned because it doesn’t exactly show the gods in a favourable light, nor does it fit with established Temple canon.

    Bit like the Dead Sea Scrolls being translated by a specific faction within the Catholic church, to make sure it fits dogma… :)

  42. Alec Meer says:

    Antonymous: you’re as silly as you are wrong. I.e. hugely.

  43. Arrrmo says:

    Morrowind, for all the wall-of-text methods that Bethesda used for the lore, was full of these brilliant, compelling, little moments. I only found one equally-inspired moment in the 20 hours I put into Oblivion before calling it quits (the murder-mystery / Clue mission for the Dark Brotherhood).

    My favorite Morrowind memory? Once you are able to levitate and turn invisible, you can sneak your way to the final boss waaaay before you’re supposed to face him… the encounter that follows (which the devs actually planned for) is absolutely brilliant.

  44. Adventurous Putty says:

    I suppose it doesn’t help that the first few hours of Morrowind are absolutely unforgivable for their shittiness. After you get off the boat, you are insignificant and pathetically ill-equipped to do anything besides banal fetch quests — which, of course, you are forced to complete with gusto, seeing as how they are your main source of income.

    So people get turned off — it’s understandable. Which is a pity, because there’s so very much in that game to discover.

  45. Serondal says:

    Adventurous Putty – You’re never forced to do any quest and you certainly aren’t so weak and insignificant to do anything BUT fetch quests. I seldom hear people complaining the game is too hard, normally it is complaints that the game is too easy. Oblivion is even worse, you can handle just about anything Oblivion throws at you right off the bat, the same in Morrowind.

  46. Lugribossk says:

    I love how there’s a secret message hidden in the full set of the 36 Lessons of Vivec that gives a different perspective on the Battle at Red Mountain. Or the madness with a few glimmers of plot in “Where where you when the Dragon Broke?”. That’s not the kind of thing you could do if the backstory was explained in cutscenes and flashbacks instead.

  47. Tyraa Rane says:

    This brings back some fond memories for me of my first playthrough of Morrowind. Yagrum is certainly one of my favorite characters in the game, if only because of how he caught me by surprise (I hadn’t read any spoilers and had only a vague idea what was waiting for me in the corprus cure quest). My character spent quite some time visiting with him and discussing the Dwemer.

  48. Serondal says:

    I was caught off guard as well Tyraa, I just assumed all the dwarves were dead and gone so when one suddenly appeared I was very surprised, and disgusted its stomach lol.

  49. Clovus says:

    My problem is definitely not that I don’t like to read. I just don’t like to read when I’m playing a game. I guess if I printed out the books I found in Bethesda games (I might not read them, but I collect them), I might actually read them afterwards. But then I’d rather read a proper book, then a bunch of annoying short stories when I’m not playing a game. I want to keep playing the game when I am playing the game, I guess.

  50. Duckmeister says:

    Hey guys, I want to read books when I read books, and play games when I play games, not read books when I play games or play games when I read books.

    So maybe all this book-within-game shenanigans would be fixed if Bethesda included a mini-library of tiny paperback books in the boxed copy of the game so that I don’t have to read books in the game, I can read books when I read books.

    • Shooop says:

      Or they could let you discover it, interact with it in a way like they did here.

      It doesn’t seem like a good idea to me at all having to read about a game’s history before playing it to understand what’s what. The Witcher had that exact problem.

    • Dozer says:

      Oldpost is old, Shooop. Oldpost is old. Leave these bones to rest.