Alongside the Xbox One version of Bethesda’s celebrated role player Skyrim comes a feast of mods, which seismically alter the way you play the game, from beautifying the place up a bit to introducing entire new side quests and stories to uncover. For this foray into Nord territory, however, I want to do something I’ve never done before: I want to become a bard.
Mods even have me covered here. Before long I’ve booted up a game with a few different extras bolted on, including a mod which introduces temperature effects into the game. Now I’ll have to worry about keeping warm, preferably in a pub, as well as bashing skeletons. The most important addition for this playthrough, though, is the Become A Bard mod. I’ll start the game with a repertoire of tunes in my brain (well, in a side menu), and as soon as I can procure an instrument I’ll be able to earn my keep by rocking up to local taverns and entertaining the clientele.
I craft my character: a lithe, mohawk-toting orc named Brenda. An alternate-start mod sees her plonked down, not aboard the prison cart of the default story, but inside a bandit fortress in the wilderness south of Markarth. Brenda soon tires of the life of a bandit without any lutes so she moves on.
The closest settlement of note, and the most likely place Brenda will find a rapt audience for her melodies, is Falkreath, and a march through soggy crag lands is required to reach it. Stopping only occasionally to warm up by a campfire, and only once having to run away from some Forsworn brigands (she’s a bard, not a warrior!), she eventually reaches the small town’s outskirts. There are to be no tunes here, however, as Brenda is immediately arrested for her bandit background, which I later discover is part of the Alternate Start mod. Great.
Presumably years later, Brenda is released from gaol and makes a beeline for the nearest tavern, the ominously named Dead Man’s Drink. It’s full of people, but what’s this? There’s already a bard here, plucking away at his lute strings while an enraptured crowd lightly claps at his tepid tune-age. This will not stand. Brenda waits until the bard returns to his room and follows him in, closing the door behind her. Falkreath deserves better than this lukewarm purveyor of lullabies, she attests, as she begins to bludgeon him with a mace. Annoyingly, looting his corpse reveals nary a lute in sight. Also, Brenda’s murderous attempt to take this poor man’s place has inexplicably caught the attention of two guards who were presumably enjoying a drink while on duty in the tavern’s main room. Brenda is sent back to prison.
Many years later she’s freed once more, yet her dream is as alive as ever. Eventually, she finds a lute leant up against the wall of the local Jarl’s longhall storeroom. She steals it (a relatively petty crime in her stuttering career as a murdering minstrel). No one spots her and soon she’s back in the Dead Man’s Drink with the proprietor offering her a berth and some coin in exchange for playing songs on her pilfered instrument.
Brenda sets up at the far end of the hall, finding a nice perch by the hearth, and begins to (automatically) strum out some songs. The customers seem happy enough and before long they’re winding their way out into the cold night air. Brenda heads over to collect her earnings. 15 gold coins, enough to buy an Eidar cheese wedge and an ale, is now hers and she’s shown to her room for the night.
Brenda munches down on the cheese and swigs the ale via a barely perceptible menu-based sound effect. She lays on the bed and notices that this is the old bard’s room. In fact his corpse still lies naked and looted on the carpet. Brenda sleeps, knowing that there’s no coming back from this life. I step away from my modded Skyrim save realising that some professions ask too much of those that dream of them. At what cost, bard-dom?
This article originally appeared in Xbox: The Official Magazine. For more great Xbox coverage, you can subscribe here.