A while ago I posted here and discovered that my prologue was better off being a short story. I've written a new prologue and I'm looking for some feedback. Is it engaging, pacing etc. Also language, because I'm not a native speaker. So this is what total destruction looked like. All the world looked black; no plants, no animals, no life. A far stretched waste of utter desolation. The landscape, a giant layer of ash, yet it was worse than that; a state further decomposed than burnt leftovers. Clouds were next to nowhere, making one of the setting suns shine bright as could be. A lake was visible and present, only because after ages the water had seeped back through from the deepest layers of the earth. This lake laid against a giant mountain ridge going as far as the eye could see. From a crevice, two figures emerged. They appeared to be two youthful men riding horses. “Glad to see the suns again,” Rigo exclaimed as he dimmed his torch. “We’ve been going through that tunnel for I don’t know how long. Thank the Earthbound that we’ve safely crossed the Circle’s rim. And now I understand how the whole Circle can have such high tops; the foundations are so broad it will not collapse as long as we live.” “Well yeah dummy,” Aiver teased. “I bet it will remain even longer than that. Let’s agree that this ride gives an idea of how massive these mountains are. But enough about them. You’re doing that thing again where you jokingly focus on something else. I mean, look at how dark everything here is compared to the sky, it’s almost solely black and white. Can’t we just be amazed by this?” “That’s true, yeah,” Rigo responded. “It’s almost inconceivable Yve.” “Do you even know which word you used?” Aiver mused. “Of course I know the nickname I gave you” Rigo jested back at him. “But yes, I also know the other word. And it’s fitting really. I see it with my own eyes and I can’t believe what I’m seeing. I even think I have goosebumps and it’s not cold. Also, do you smell that? I can only smell the horses; there are no scents here. I’ve heard the stories many times. Witnessing it is truly different. To imagine that so much energy came together. No wonder so many dragons were wiped away. I bet they didn’t even have time to burst or get ripped apart.” Aiver inhaled sharply, built suspense, and blew a raspberry. Both of them laughed loudly. “I don’t think that’s how it went,” Rigo said sarcastically. “More like...” He slapped his thighs and shouted the word boom, causing his horse to spur. Aiver chuckled as he hastened to catch up. The two rode towards the lake and, upon reaching the bank, followed the shoreline. The water seemed as solid a black mass as the land around it, yet it was as transparent as a window. The only way to tell was the changing refraction of light when a soft breeze disrupted the surface tension. It was eerily quiet. Inside the circle there was always life around the lakes, a little chirp from a bird or the buzz of an insect. Here was nothing. Aiver tried to make his horse kick up some dirt in the direction of Rigo. However, the blackened ground was too solid and unmovable; hooves could not disrupt the dusky facade. Neither could the wind lift the barren soil. Besides the giant structure of the Circle, the entire land was plain with nearly no rise in sight; flat darkness as far as the eye could see. A vast amount of emptiness. “It’s quite chilling, isn’t it Yve?” Rigo wondered. “I think even the horses are uncomfortable. Shall we agree to keep talking to break the silence?” “That sounds good to me,” Aiver responded. “Let’s see how long we can keep it up. So... what to talk about? How about the lake? The water level on this side of the circle is really a lot lower than on the inside. I can’t imagine it was one lake before the circle rose. Now it more resembles a crater with some water in it. I thought with a name like the split lakes they’d at least resemble each other in some manner. Guess I was wrong.” “Well, possibly they’ll line up finely,” Rigo said, “but you’d have to stand on top of the Circle to be able to tell. Not even with a blessing from both Born-from-waves and the dragon of time am I going to climb up there though. Feel free to do so, but do it without me.” “I’m perfectly fine staying on the ground below, thank you,” Aiver clapped back. “Also, I can’t help but wonder that these are just the split lakes; what will the barricade seas look like? Compared to their counterpart inside the circle, they will seem like half the seas they could’ve been, or rather were. So weird.” For a while they kept the conversation going. Slowly the waterline started to bend to the right. Near the water’s edge there appeared a small disruption. A glisten of white reflected over the lake and gave a view of what lay on the lakeside. As the second sun was disappearing towards the horizon, it cast the last lights of the day. Soon it became time to spend the one night in the wastes. “There’s the ribcage Elder Crast had mentioned to us,” Aiver pointed. “Even the bones are blackened. And look how big they are.” “If we’d stack ten people on our shoulders, we’d still not make it to the top. Man, dragon’s are massive. I can’t wait to see a live one.” “Yeah, you and me both,” Aiver said excitedly. “For now we’ll have to make due with this, though.” The two rode until they were past the first pairs of ribs. There they got off their horses and grabbed supplies from their equines’ backs. Rigo pulled out a number of wooden logs, some flint, and a few morsels of food to cook, as Aiver grabbed a canteen of water and the hammocks. Whilst Rigo got the fire going, his friend started tying the hammocks in between the ribs that were positioned closer together. “I’m really glad to have these with us,” Aiver sighed with relief. As he stomped with his foot, he continued. “Immagine sleeping on this ground. Our backs would become stiff and I doubt I’d ever drift off. I long for a nice bed” “Longing for a bed already?” Rigo said rhetorically, watching shortly over his shoulder, before turning back to stoke the fire. “Acting all tough before we leave and five days in hammocks, you’re already complaining. It’s always the same with you isn’t it? “Whatever man,” Aiver grumbled. “I’m fine with the hammock, it’s just nicer in a bed, I bet you’d prefer one too right now. Besides that, I’m pondering if it is too quiet for me to sleep. How strange is that?” “Pretty weird, but I get it,” Rigo answered inattentively, watching the food being heated. “Don’t worry though. I’m quite sure this nice crackling fire will lull us into a slumber. And if not, at least now we have a warm meal.” Aiver finished hanging the hammocks and sat next to Rigo. “I’m glad it is just one night out here. It all makes me uncomfortable. Why again did we want to go outside of the circle again?” “We wanted to be adventurous,” Rigo replied. “If I’m not mistaken Yve, you insisted we go out, because,” and he said this mockingly, “everybody’s been inside the circle, so what fun would that be?” “Fine, I’ll take it back,” Aiver grumbled. “Now I agree I rather see something colourful. Like the waterfalls of Gorr. That would’ve been better.” “In hindsight, yeah,” Rigo broke off. He took a morsel of meat from the fire as he continued. “But now we’re here and I’m happy with that. It gives some real insight; a new perspective even. As long as I remember I had dreamt of going to the dragons and getting a gift of elements. To be able to control one of the aspects. All this time I could only think of how wonderful it is to use elementalism, how it helped make life easier for us people and our village, but being here makes me realise it can also be destructive. So I’m glad we’re here, even for one night. It makes me more aware about what we’re set out to do. “That’s definitely true,” Aiver chimed in as he grabbed a grilled vegetable from the fire. “Although I think I paid more attention to the stories when we were younger. Remember Captain Keat, who capsized his fishing boat?” “Oh right,” Rigo said. “I remember. He survived, but three members of his crew drowned. Wasn’t one of them Letta’s father? I think it was. Anyway, point made. Nothing is risk free. Still I can’t wait, to be honest. I’m so excited for what’s next. What do you think the Branchmother will look like, Yve?” “A giant lizard with wings?” Aiver contemplated. “I don’t know. We’ve only ever seen a small dragon fly over. And of course the statues in the temple. But is that much to go on?” “We’ll know it when we see it,” Rigo answered. “Although my fantasy is already racing. It must be gigantic. The wings will be able to cover a town, for sure.” “Calm down there,” Aiver halted him. “For now, let's enjoy tonight. There will be enough days to dream. Small adventures like these. After that, we’ll be seeing her for real. Be patient.”
I’ve got back into Skyrim again after not feeling like playing for so long… Thought I’d share my mods list, just for fun! It’ll likely keep growing as time goes on and as I collect more mods. Gameplay/Quest Related Khajiit Cat Sprint and Sneak https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/22604 I play as a Khajiit and I don’t want my feline avatar sprinting and sneaking like a boring humanoid haha! For those who also want it, watch out as this mod seems to affect all your followers, including non-Khajiiti characters... I died when I saw Serana sprinting like a cat 😆 Archery Gameplay Overhaul https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/69033 I didn’t like the animations of vanilla archery (and the enchanted arrows are a sweet bonus) so I’m glad this mod exists. Too bad there’s no Scoped Bow mod that’s compatible with it because my aim stinks… If you're an archery buff, I'll ignorantly assume you'd like this. Dual Wield Parrying https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/9247 Being able to block is really important as to not take too much damage and being unable to do so while dual-wielding is so aggravating! This mod more or less fixes that. Not sure how many people want this but here it is if you do. KenMOD - Lockpick Pro - Cheat https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/219 I was tired of using up so many lockpicks all at once... Unlock Unique Enchantments https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/29059 There’s so many cool enchantments that players aren’t normally able to obtain, the possibilities are endless! I can only imagine what enchantments you'll all use lol Sleep bonus for Werewolves https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/66867 It feels a bit like cheating but it’s really not fair that those with Beastblood cannot restfully sleep whatsoever. It’s not like they have nightmares of being a merciless Werebeast every night... and it's not like every Lycan hates Lord Hircine's gift… Surely I'm not the only one irritated at this? Roleplay Related Wintersun - Faiths of Skyrim https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/95545 Being able to worship both the All-Maker and Hircine is so awesome! The amount of choices in whom you worship is pretty cool, too. I love that you have the option to worship any Deity regardless of race, thanks to the MCM. Blessed of the All-Maker https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/70455 You bet your bottom dollar that I’m gonna have this mod after saying I’m gonna worship the All-Maker! I think I found a mod similar to this for Hircine but I don't remember… Doubt there are many players who worship the All-Maker... PC Head Tracking and Voice Type https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/72039 Player Eyes Blink Fix https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/44596 I despise the vacant stare and lifeless expressions that the player character has and these two mods in tandem make roleplaying all the more easy for me. My character will ACTUALLY look at Inigo when he speaks! If this stuff bothers you, too, these are the mods for you. Dovahkiin Relaxes Too https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/13931 This mod is the pinnacle of roleplaying! What else can I say? I can do almost anything an NPC can do! My favorite is sitting in front of a campfire. If you need to relax, get this mod. Become A Bard https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/65636 This mod does what Bethesda didn’t. Plain and simple. Don't ignore it it you are just as spiteful about the uselessness of the Bard's College as I am!!! Camping Kit of the Northern Ranger https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/10573 It's great for immersion though I usually just end up coming home to Breezehome and ignoring realism. It's tedious to set up a campsite but I honestly couldn't just leave it alone. I may feel like truly camping when I'm traveling from one spot to another at some point. The two previous mods would make camping a little more interesting, too. If you get this mod as a nature lover, you'll be one happy camper! 😁 I-I'm sorry... PlayeRace Related Racial Body Morphs - Diverse body types and height by Race and Gender https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/81201 It always irked me knowing that Bosmer are the same height as Altmer… I’ll just leave it at that. If you care about that part of lore, get this mod. Just, uh… be prepared to awkward look at Altmer torsos if you play as a Bosmer... Nicer-Looking Khajiit https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/8934 Back when I was a newbie, I was enticed by the ability to play as a feline before I even played the game but didn’t like how weird they looked (this was when it was still new, I believe)… I got used to it over my time playing but suffice it to say, I’m appreciative of this mod. It’s also nice to know that as an added bonus, Kharjo is now essential 😊 If you want nice-looking Khajiit, look no further! Feminine Khajiit Textures (Grey Cat and Leopard) - Vanilla https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/62193 Now my Khajiit looks more like a Snow Leopard and fits right into Skyrim’s climate! The lore for her that I've created deepens! Eh… you'll all probably get the naked versions... Khajiit Eyes Extended https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/71478 I have a separate character for my own world that I’ve built who’s also a feline and she has heterochromatic, glowing eyes. This mod allows me to roleplay as her in this manner so yay! If you want your Khajiit to have unique eyes, don't hesitate, get this mod! Khajiit Hair https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/67873 I dislike all of the Khajiit hairstyles so this mod was a real lifesaver for me. It doesn't look too different from the vanilla hairstyles but just enough to satisfy me. If I find better ones, I might change my mind. Digitigrade Beast Races Full DLC Edition https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/51097 I don’t know what it is but human feet look weird on Khajiit and Argonians, at least to me. I prefer feline feet on my character because it looks appropriate and just right. The below character has them, too! As do all Khajiit! If you care enough to change the feet of the Khajiit and Argonians in your game, help yourself. Followers, Steeds, and Pets Inigo https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/40960 I highly, HIGHLY recommend this mod to everyone, even newbies. I could not go back to Skyrim without Inigo. He just makes Skyrim feel more alive. His creator did an outstanding job creating a character that truly feels like your friend and it’s super easy to get attached; hence why I refuse to play Skyrim without him now. The only downfall is that he’s not interested in the player romantically lol but that’s where the next mod comes in handy… Khajiit Will Follow https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/72711 I wanted this mod solely to marry a Khajiit because I couldn’t either find the necessary mod to marry Kharjo or couldn’t get it to work - you’ll always be in my heart Kharjo... Of course, being a resident of Whiterun and because of convenience and plot reasons, I went with Bikhai. I frankly haven’t done much with the other three Khajiit yet, heh... I have a feeling I’d prefer Bikhai over the two males, anyway. My heart still belongs to Kharjo and Inigo but Bikhai, having voiced dialogue, calls me his mate and that... that sealed the deal for me lol Kharjo isn’t even scripted to have marriage-related dialogue and I can’t see Inigo saying stuff like that so... it all worked out for the best. I’m glad it did because I almost settled on being unable to bring Derkeethus home as my would-be husband because of the game-breaking bug and would've had to live in a mine Dx I love you Derk, but you borke, boy lol Sinding Werewolf Follower https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/73289 I love Sinding and I immediately spared him on my first time doing Ill-Met By Moonlight and have ever since. I was sad that he was scripted to stay put in Bloated Man’s Grotto and only comes out to feed. I mean, in his defense, he DID say he wanted to stay away from people and not hurt anyone but... I’m not kidding when I say this, he always felt like a brother to me so I wished he could leave the Grotto and just come on adventures with me to focus his Werewolf abilities on hostiles instead of feeling like the poor guy had to isolate himself... Seeing this mod really made me happy that I could roleplay the ability for him to choose to fight by my side. Too bad his actual model could only speak in static and that his original voice actor (or a damn good copycat) couldn’t provide for it or for the separate Werewolf model… Does anyone other than me care? Arvak mod https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/23966 Such a good horse! I love how Arvak looks and I especially love his boney-sounding clip-clops when he gallops! They’re more satisfying to listen to than the boney sounds Skeletons make, that’s for sure... shudders Anyway, this mod allows Arvak to be summoned and desummoned. No more horrifying dying sounds when he disappears after a time! He also has the choice of either having a flame, frost, or lightning cloak that comes in handy when barreling towards enemies. Only flaw is that when you get off him, he walks away randomly, very annoying... I know there are some Arvak fans out there! Blaze Of Eventide https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/25097 This is my other favorite horse; Blaze is a fire horse, he glows but not when sneaking, he leaves cool fiery hoofprints behind him, he deals fire damage, fire can heal him, he can kamikaze enemies in a dramatic fiery explosion… He's so cool. but I gave him to Inigo since I prefer to ride Arvak, now. Such a cool horse! Sabretooth Companion https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/9423 Whether as an actual pet or as a distant relative, Sabertooth is my companion because I like the Snowy Sabre Cats. I like to keep him at home most of the time because I am afraid too many followers may crash my game. But it's wonderful to be greeted at the entrance of Breezehome! If you want your own pet Sabre Cat, this is pretty much the only option lol A Simple Mod - Dogs Into Huskies https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/55069 I’m not really a fan of how Skyrim’s dogs look but I’m a big Husky fan. Dawnguard Huskies aren't essential or available as pets so I like this better. I mainly had to download this mod so I could own Meeko as a Husky. And now my house has a good boy! Husky fans, make some noise in the comments! Increased Follower Limit https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/36132 Without this mod, I wouldn’t be able to roam Skyrim with Bikhai, Inigo, Sinding, Sabertooth and anyone else I feel like bringing along all at once! Although, I usually prefer to keep Bikhai at home because I don’t think he’s marked as essential and he keeps my children company when I am away which gives poor Lydia a break from having to look after them herself as well as my house. Has anyone reached the maximum number of followers with this mod? Weapons, Armors, Clothing, and Accessories Heavy Armory - New Weapons https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/21120 This mod is useful for me for two reasons - I have a larger variety of weapons to see when I fight enemies and I can use a Stalhrim Spear to further my roleplaying. Wish it was throwable, though, that'd be awesome! If you're tired of the same-old, same-old, this might be your thing. Unique Uniques https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/33292 I’m honestly a little peeved Bethesda didn’t give every unique weapon an unique appearance, that’s so lazy in my opinion… I don't hold it against them but still. This is a popular mod so I already know alot of you have it. Wrath of Potema - Wolfqueens Hunger https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/26332 This mod is so seamless with this quest that I genuinely didn’t even know that this was a mod! See, my ex was playing on my Xbox when he downloaded this mod and I guess I just so happened to either beat this quest for the first time ever or in a very long time - I thought this awesome-looking sword was a genuine vanilla quest reward! I obviously didn’t pay much attention to what he downloaded because it’s quite convincingly lore-friendly, I think. Duskfall - A Dawnbreaker Companion Blade https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/33176/ I never know what to have in my left hand when wielding Dawnbreaker and when I discovered this, I realized what was missing. Now I wield them both and it’s great because things just feel so complete! I'm like a discount Azura kinda but not really lol The Sword of the Eternal Phoenix - Unique Legendary Sword https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/68267 I wanted a fiery weapon to contrast my Snow Leopard and Stalhrim theme and this looked like a cool weapon! Kinda wish I had matching armor and more weapons to go with it to continue the fiery theme... Vindicator - The Holy Greatsword https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/67404 It’s a great Knight’s blade and it goes with an armor mod I’ve got... I enchanted this weapon with Chaos Damage and (using Unlock Unique Enchantments) the effect of Dragonbane to fight against the Dovah. Top it all off with Dragonrend and I'm the ultimate Dragon-slaying machine! Halo Gravity Hammer https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/10855 This weapon is what made fall in love with warhammers in general but when I found out that there was a mod for this Halo weapon, I had to say goodbye to Volendrung and hello to making enemies fly across the room (which often glitches their health for some reason) with this out-of-place, lore-unfriendly beast of a warhammer. Maybe I should call it Fist of Malacath or something xD Quel'Delar https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/68707 I don’t even play WoW, mind you, but when I saw the thumbnail for the mod, I had to have it. I own it solely because it looks cool. Dawnguard and Dragonborn Armored Circlets https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/34563 Not only do I want to see my custom hair (and not meshed with helmets) when I am in 3rd person view, I just don’t like any of the helmets in the vanilla game or any of the ones in the DLCS (yes, even the Stalhrim helmets; especially those) but I don’t mind the circlets and since I want the Heavy Armor Perk, this seemed like the obvious choice. Plus it kinda matches my Stalhrim armor. I don't think many folks like Circlets, however... Stalhrim Heavy Shield https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/31603 I prefer to wear heavy armor and having a light shield just feels weird… I'm not very silent and swift but that's okay lol Matys Medieval Knights https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/18863 I just wanted to wear really cool Knight armor, that simple. I’m fascinated by Knights in general and it just felt weird playing a fantasy game without them in it somehow. Yup, while wearing this and wielding Vindicator, I fight Dragons, enacting the common Knight fighting Dragons trope. Skaal MofuMofu Coat https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/97584 My aforementioned worldbuild feline character comes from an Inuit inspired culture I created for her and this mod is perfect to roleplay as a Khajiit who desires to become one with the Skaal. Left Hand Rings Modified https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/58491 It’s probably not very lore-friendly but I am very content seeing the wedding ring on the proper hand and finger - yes, that is the entire reason I wanted this mod heheh Player Home Related Breezehome TNF Beds Plus https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/54199 Breezehome is a quaint home that deserves some love. I love what this mod adds to it. Even when visiting for a short while, it makes the place feel lived in. The balcony up top is a nice touch, perfect for looking up at the nighttime sky. The best thing is that I can adopt more than two kids! I wish I could adopt all the orphans but eh, whatcha gonna do? Even if you don't adopt, the rest of this mod is worth the trouble. Dominions Adoption Expansion https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/27542 I don’t dislike any of the Nord orphans, of course, but I like having variety. Now I can pretend I had four Khajiit children with Bikhai and adopted two Nords! 😂 NPC Related The Paarthurnax Ultimatum https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/72215 No, Delphine, I refuse to kill the one ally that LITERALLY helps me as the FREAKING Dragonborn to try to defeat the World-Eater... Stupid broad… Paarthurnax is the one person I want around all the time for guidance, like a father figure! So many like Partysnax so I can only imagine how relieved you guys must feel if you didn't know this mod existed! Durnehviir Resurrected https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/72864 What can I say? I love them Dragons! This guy got manipulated and it’s unfair that he is this living, breathing carcass; he deserves love, too! He shouldn't have to look like death just because he's eternally bound to the Soul Cairn… Poor Durny just wants to come back home and be restored… but I doubt he has a following, unlike Paarthurnax. Diverse Dragons Collection 3 https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/83559 There’s only so many times I can handle seeing the same dragon models over and over... For as intrusive as these winged beasts are, I need some added variety in my life as Dragonborn. I think this mod gives the Dovah new life; surely the limited number isn’t all that there is to dragon types! I think this is a popular mod, too. More Werewolves https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/83565 Diverse Werewolves Collection https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/83564 To me, these are companion mods that go together like peanut butter and jelly. Also, really happy that I can modify the Player Werewolf model, too! Visual Mods Improved Stalhrim Weapon Textures https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/38039 I love my Stalhrim stuff so I want it to look good. Enhanced Night Skyrim https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/85 (2K) Skygazer Moons - Masser and Secunda HD Moons https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/54349 Ethereal Auroras https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/51869 I am a nyctophile… I adore the nighttime. The night sky is my jam. I cannot stress that enough lol These three mods combined make for some gorgeous stuff. Other A Quality World Map and Solstheim Map - With Roads https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/4929 I’ve used this mod for so long that I don’t even remember what the original map looks like - and I don’t want to. I highly recommend this mod. Cartographers Map Markers https://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=152380&searchtext=cartographers+map+markers I’ve been looking for a mod like this! This mod is so convenient and useful! A Matter of Time - A HUD clock widget https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/44091 I love being able to know the time, date, and season without needing to wait or sleep. I don’t have to burn the excess energy to look at my phone or desktop clock to check the real-world time either - I don’t even have to look up at the window to know it’s sunrise and that I should be asleep! Knowing the phases of the moons when indoors or cloudy nights is quite useful for Werewolf roleplay, too. Totally recommend it. Skyrim Radar Mod https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/93752 Before Skyrim, I had regularly been playing Halo and so after many years of playing that FPS, I grew kind of accustomed to having a motion tracker. This motion tracker is even better because it tells me more than just that there’s bodies around me but WHAT they are! No more aimlessly walking into trouble, I can be prepared (unless I’m not paying attention to like a dummy)! I don't know who would want this except me though. Wearable Lanterns https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/17416 Sure I could use Magelight or a torch but neither are really suitable for sneaking and they both run out anyways - with lanterns, I can turn that function off. Plus, I think it’s neat to have a wearable lantern. Give it a try if you are bored of Magelight and torches. Unread Books Glow https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/10012 I was really annoyed that I kept opening skill books only to find out I’ve already read them... If you care about books in any fashion, definitely try this out. Ish's Souls to Perks https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/18395 I sincerely hate how you can obtain every Shout there is but continue obtaining the souls of slain Dovah that no longer serve a purpose... It’s annoying and these souls could be wisely spent elsewhere, hence perks points. Mods I Don’t Have Anymore But Still Like Helmets show Khajiit ears https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/94264 I used to use this mod when the only helmet I liked was the Dragonbone helmet but now that I prefer the circlets, this is useless. I don’t even give Inigo a helmet because I’m just not a fan of any of them (plus no armor looks right on Inigo anyway). If you like any unmodded helmets but you still want to see your Khajiit’s ears, I recommend this mod. Scoped Bows https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/50528 Since this isn’t compatible with the Archery Overhaul, I no longer have a use for it. Was nice while it lasted; definitely recommend to those who want to be an archer in vanilla but can’t due to poor aim. Animated Dragon Wings https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/53271 I really loved this mod, even if the wings got in the way of vision or were a bit wonky, animation-wise, sometimes. It was useful for landing safely after a long jump but useless without a hefty flying mod (that I can't install) to go with it... Mods I Like But Can’t Use Dual Sheath Redux https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/34155 I really want this mod but I can’t seem to get the necessary files I need for it to work downloaded... It’s a bit depressing. Combat Gameplay Overhaul https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/100904 I think this and Archery Overhaul would have onflict of animations I think so I'm better off not trying to figure out how to install it... Jaxonz Renamer https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/57335 Alternate Start - Live Another Life https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/9557 Open Cities Skyrim https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/8058 While I loved being able to rename whatever I wanted, living other lives as different characters, and going into cities without dealing with loading screens, they all made my game crash HARD so I had to sacrifice all three conveniences for stable(ish) gameplay. Moonlight Tales https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/35470 Werewolf Loot https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/9891 I’d love to have both mods but they gave me serious issues in the past. The first one caused my character to be stuck mid-transformation and was unplayable as a Werewolf, even when I got rid of it. The second made it impossible to interact with anything, even after reverting back to normal. Not sure how y’all enjoy these but needless to say, I’m insanely jealous. If you want ANY of the mods I mentioned, be cautious, you never know how they may affect your systems. So I shared my mods, now share yours and explain why you picked each one (but note that I am picky about my mods)! Convince me as to why I should use your mods! Please no NSFW ones, that ain’t my cup of tea.
For 1d4 hours you have the overwhelming urge to tell members of the party things like: "I F****** love you man", inappropriate secrets about yourself, long drawn out stories that don't actually contain any useful information.
You fall prone (but not unconscious).
You fall unconscious (but not prone).
You cannot climb stairs without passingly a DC15 Dex check. Duration: 1d6 minutes.
Pass a DC 15 CON check or projectile vomit on a creature within 5 ft of you. This does 1d4 acid damage, and the target probably won't be pleased. u/Kabelbrand
You get separated from the group and wake up in a random location up to 50 miles away. You have no idea what exactly happened to get you there. u/Kabelbrand
You have a strong desire for fatty food for 1d4 hours, and will abandon common sense and logic to get some. u/Kabelbrand
You wake up the next day with a terrible headache, having gained one Exhaustion level. u/Kabelbrand
A woman you don't know or remember comes up to you and slaps you across the face, then storms off. u/Kabelbrand
Sunlight or loud noises give you a terrible headache for half a day. You make weapon attacks with disadvantage while under this effect. u/Kabelbrand
You have lost your weapon or spell focus/component pouch. u/Kabelbrand
You have lost your armor or clothes, except shoes and underwear. u/Kabelbrand
You have gained a follower. Says his name is Dave, that he's your "mate" (roleplay Dave with an over the top Aussie accent) and he'll come along on some "sick adventures". Use the Commoner stats, or homebrew a Stat block. u/Kabelbrand
You find an uncommon magic item in your pack. It doesn't belong to you, so who knows who's looking for it... u/Kabelbrand
You wake up with an extra 5d10 gold, there's no clues to its origin. u/jthunderk89
You lose your sense of volume control, frequently talking very loudly. u/jthunderk89
You can wake up to find a wanted ad in the newspaper for a man/woman that perfectly fits your description. u/SinnerEliminator
Most people in town now know you by name after the legendary night, but nobody will tell you why. u/RoseFromdadead
Only applicable if the character is a changeling or a shapeshifter in some sort of way The character changes shapes quickly, without thinking about it. (if not a shapeshifter. re-roll). u/SaltySac710
You hit on everyone and everything for 1d6 minutes. u/Scythekid96
Upon finishing the drink, you place the bottle on the table. The table is gone. A hole the size of the bottle goes deep into the ground. It is dark. At the bottom, you find the Excalibur. u/SstarLit56
You get banned from the tavern. Anybody questioned as to what happened will refuse to answer, as it was just too horrible to remember. Only respose given is "You know what you did!". u/NotActuallyEvil & u/CaputDraconis
When you wake up the next morning you are continually hailed by the townsfolk as “Edgar!” and clapped on the back, but Edgar is not your name. (Replace with "Roger!" if you are already called Edgar). u/dysonrules
While drunk you find yourself in love with your horse and demand someone in the clergy marry you because the steed is the only one always there for you. u/dysonrules
While complaining about your least favorite party member, someone suggests you “kill them with kindness” so you become their best friend for the next six hours. (At the DMs discretion, you attempt to kill them using non lethal means.) u/dysonrules
For the duration of your inebriation, you are treated to be under the effect of the zone of truth spell. You can make a charisma saving throw once per hour to attempt a lie, but roll with disadvantage. u/crimebiscuit
You wake up with a goat sleeping in your bed. You have no recollection of how you got it. u/raykendo
You wake up in a temple with priests angry at you for your acts of desecration. You have to clean the temple or pay some gold to make up for it. u/raykendo
You wake up with a strange magical rune tattooed to your hand. You don't remember how it got there. (Optional, You are now a Warlock). u/raykendo & u/PooPooKazew
You wake up with a ring on your hand, and people congratulate you on your wedding. But you don't know who you married. u/raykendo
You, drunkenly, got into a game of strip poker. And lost, badly. In your nakedness, you get to search for your clothes. Do you even remember who the other players were? u/PutridMeatPuppet
You decided the ducks in the pond were cold and made/bought them all little hats. You managed to get them on 1d6 ducks, but wake up several silver poorer, with wet, muddy clothes, and a duck on your chest. u/AerialGame
You decided one of your party members was lying to you about something (their class, race, background, name...) and spent the entire night trying to convince them to tell you. u/AerialGame
You forgot the word for a simple object, like chair, and now everyone is referring to it with your made up name (sit-table, thingamuffin, etc) whenever you’re in earshot. u/AerialGame
You gain the benefits of the 'see invisibility' spell for 1d6 minutes, without expending a spell spot. However, every invisible thing you see takes the form of a floating cat. u/BoomToll
At the start of each round of combat, your movement speed either increases or decreases by (1d4)x5 feet, alternating each time. This effect stacks for 10 minutes before your movement speed returns to normal. u/BoomToll
Your passive perception increases by 10 for 10 minutes. u/BoomToll
Your passive perception is reduced to 1 for 10 minutes. u/BoomToll
You wake up in possession of a dagger and 2d10 mutilated chicken corpses. u/BoomToll
You wake up in bed next to the person of another gender nearest to you when you passed out. If there are no people of different genders, you wake up next to a combat training dummy. u/BoomToll
You wake up in bed next to the person of the same gender nearest to you when you passed out. If there are no people of the same or similar genders, you wake up next to a combat training dummy u/BoomToll
Chapter Select Unsurprisingly, Hal wasn’t a fan of sporting events, and he quickly learned this extended to all tourney events. At least when Chris or Theo were taking part he had some stakes in the action, but most of it he found dreadfully boring. With nearly a week of events planned Hal had tried to bring some large scrolls to his seat to work on the design for the ramp he was planning to fit to Prometheus, but Diana stopped him. Said he should at least appear to be watching. He was allowed to send occasional messages, which was good because the guild’s stonesingers were now working on the new tower for the remnants of the Hidden Star. After Hal had explained the design of the tower, with various enchantments, they’d readily agreed. They’d even named the circle after their new tower, becoming the Circle of the Stolen Sky. When the events finally ended for the day Hal had to hide his relief, managing to do so until he and Diana reached the keep of castle Prometheus. Another hour was spent in the workshop still trying fruitlessly to make a radio analog before he retired for dinner. “Damnit, you’re early,” Diana said as Hal reached his private dining room, after a day of sitting and smiling he wasn’t really in the mood to sit and smile while he ate in the main hall. The mage was hunched over a small brazier repeatedly striking flint and steel. Hal wondered why she needed a fire, the entire castle was lit by enchanted lights of various kinds, and he was about to ask when he noticed several candles on the small table beside two plates of food. “My virtual girlfriend feeling neglected?” He asked with a bit of a smile. “A little,” she admitted, “it’s been big battles, racing around to find or save people, figured since we’re stationary for a bit the two of us could make the best of it. Also, you looked like you needed a pickup after watching the tourney all day.” “Killing two creepers with one fire?” he grinned and the mage shook her head at the joke, “why not go down to the kitchen? They have a fire going there.” “That would be admitting defeat,” she growled, striking the flint with the steel several more times, “I am a mage of fire, and a divine conduit of the mistress of flame. I shall not stoop to borrowing other’s flame.” “And your staff?” “Already tried it, it doesn’t actually set things on fire.” “Shame you can’t snap your fingers and create fire, like your students can.” “That exercise they do to focus their minds?” She asked, Hal nodded in response, “screw it, if they can cast spells without saying things, so can I.” Hal smiled and leaned against the wall, deciding to humor her as she stood to face the table, dropping the flint and tinder. Diana took a long breath and closed her eyes, opening them she focused on the candle, held her hand out and, after another moment, snapped her fingers. Both of them froze when the candle lit. Nearly a minute passed with them staring alternately at the candle and each other. Without saying anything Diana turned slightly to focus on another candle, took a breath, snapped her fingers and that candle too lit. “Explain,” she half demanded, looking over her shoulder at Hal. “Uhhh,” he thought for a moment before responding, “hidden casting method? Elwin does like to hide things in his games. Maybe the machines can read our brains for intent, combined with an action and cause some minor effect?” “Not just minor effects,” Diana’s eyes widened, “that’s how you killed that judgement. In your rage your mind was so focused that the computer read it as intent.” “I didn’t have specific effects in mind though,” the knight argued, “I just wanted to kill it for hurting Ash, who I thought was dead.” “They always say that your emotional state can effect your magic, maybe the focus and anger was all it needed. The system deciding you had enough of both to trigger the effect and took it from there?” “And the locals don’t see the difference between casting methods, seeing the use of words and gestures as methods to focus one’s thoughts,” Hal added, then shrugged, “seems as reasonable as any explanation to me.” “Before you run off to do tests, dinner,” Diana pointed at the table, now with all the candles lit. “What are you doing?” Chris asked the next morning, approaching the training ground where Hal was standing in a typical warrior skill stance, 10 meters away from the dummy and glaring at it. “Trying to activate a skill without saying the words,” Hal replied, shooting the champion a glare before returning to concentrating on the dummy. “Maybe there needs to be an action,” Diana called from the sidelines, ignoring Chris, “I had to snap my fingers, maybe you should, I don’t know, swing your sword?” “Worth a try,” the knight shrugged, resuming his stance. “Shouldn’t you focus on min-maxing your abilities,” Chris grumbled, “this is a game after all.” Hal and Diana ignored him, the former taking a moment to focus before lunging with his sword as though he had just completed the charge. Several attempts later he hadn’t made any progress. “Why even practice?” Chris asked, pulling his spear out and walking over to a dummy. He took a halfhearted swing at it, the blade on the end of his weapon taking a decent chip out of the wood, “doesn’t matter how good your stance is, attacks do the same damage.” Before Hal could respond something whistled past them and landed with a dull thud into the head of the dummy Chris had chosen. Eric walked over to them to retrieve the knife he had thrown, which was buried halfway into the wood. “You need both,” the sniper said, “something Hal taught me when I first got here, you need to know how to throw a knife and how to activate a skill. Without one you’ll be beaten by someone who has both.” “Really, jarhead?” Chris scoffed, trying to hide his surprise at the dagger that just flew past his head, “how much you wanna bet I could beat you with just game mechanics?” “If I win you join our guild,” Eric responded instantly, pulling the knife from the target dummy and sheathing it with a showy spin. “You guys are trying to get me to anyway,” Chris shrugged, “dangling those hippogriffs out as a prize, don’t think I hadn’t noticed. If I win you will treat me with the respect I deserve.” “If you win, you’ll have earned it,” Eric replied motioning to the nearby training field. Once again, a ‘master of duels’ appeared out of nowhere, just like when Eric had challenged Hal, and promised to keep the duel non-lethal. As they both took their positions Eric removed his bow and quiver, tossing them on the ground. Both Hal and Diana paused experimenting to watch. “You’re a sniper, don’t you think you’ll need that?” Chris asked lifting his spear. “Nope,” Eric replied simply, entering a combat stance with both hands out with the ease of someone who’d spent years training. The duel master counted down and signaled them to start. Chris made the first move, lifting his spear above his head and shouting activating a skill Hal recognized it from several of his bouts in the tourney as ‘warcry.’ Unique to Champions it drew attention from all enemies in range, applying a minor taunt and building the champion unique resource called glory. “Charge,” Chris half shouted after brining the spear back down and began sprinting forward as the skill took over. As he came to a halt he thrust with the spear directly for Eric’s chest, the CIA operative easily dodged, pushing the spear to the side with one arm while slamming his other elbow into Chris’s chest. The champion stumbled slightly but remained standing. “Right, you’re stronger than me in here,” Eric said dryly. “If you want to surrender now then-,” Chris began to reply before being interrupted as Eric ducked under his spear, grabbing it and twisting it free of the other man’s grasp. With a practiced spin he struck Chris in the back of the knee with the butt of the weapon. The champion cried out in pain as his leg gave way. “Your stance is bad though,” Eric explained as he spun the spear once more, stepping behind Chris and placing the tip of the weapon to the back of his neck, “Backstab.” The weapon glowed briefly as the trickster skill activated. With one foot on Chris’s calf and the point of the spear, with skill ready, to his back Eric paused. “I could kill you here,” Eric said, pressing the point of the weapon so it almost drew blood to emphasize his point. Chris froze for a moment before grumbling something Hal didn’t catch, but it had to be some form of supplication as the duel master called the match in Eric’s favor. The sniper removed the weapon, the skill timing out after a moment, before reaching out one hand to help Chris to his feet. “Now what?” Chris growled when Eric refused to return his spear. “Now,” Eric explained, stepping back and leveling the weapon, “I’m going to teach you how to do what I just did.” “Wha- why?” “Because you are part of Gordon’s Hope now. You know how to game, good, that’s half the process. Now I have to teach you to fight.” “He spent several weeks showing me how to swing a sword,” Hal called from the sidelines. “And me how to swing a staff,” Diana added with a smile. “And they taught me how to game,” Eric finished, “now, we’ll do this slow the first few times.” Hal and Diana left them to their training, exchanging pleased smiles with one another. “Here I thought Theo was a good rival for him,” Hal explained later that day to the rest of his party as the Tourney continued on before them, “seems Eric was a better influence.” “He didn’t seem any nicer at lunch,” Isabella replied, then admitted, “though he was quieter.” “He doesn’t have to be nice; I’ve worked with plenty of dirtbags before. But he has to work with us.” Meanwhile in the arena Theo was dancing around an opponent with a much larger weapon. The swashbuckler had quickly become a crowd favorite with his antics, at times it almost looked like he was toying with his enemies but that was just how swashbucklers worked. Still seemed to piss off whoever he was facing, something he was quite willing to exploit. “Any luck finding new weapons?” Hal asked, glancing at Isabella. “Diana and I teleported around a few larger towns in Ulyssar, found a bow that deals more damage at short range, scaling off my strength based on the identify spell,” the Beastmaster replied. “That’s a good match for you,” the knight nodded, “you have decent base strength and tend to be at shorter range than Eric.” “Oh, we found a couple things for him too,” Diana jumped in, suddenly remembering something, “specifically arrows that gain armor penetration the longer they’re in the air.” “How many you get?” “Around a hundred, I think. I was going to speak with Theylin, see if she can’t produce them in house for him. Be cheaper in the long run.” “We thought it’d be funny to pair with his distance bow,” Isabella added. “Seems like a fun combo,” Hal agreed, “more damage and armor pen at range, and bonus range. I should explore the stealth mechanics more, see if we could stack sneak attack crits on top.” They were interrupted as the crowd let out a loud ‘ooo’ of sympathetic pain, looking up Theo’s antics had finally caught up with him and it seemed that while attempting to dance past his opponent again he’d been clotheslined by the stronger man. Theo tried to get to his feet but was forced to forfeit when the large Warhammer his enemy wielded was placed against his head, much to the disappointment of the crowd. Nonetheless they cheered when the swashbuckler gave an elaborate bow to the victor moments later. “And then there was one,” Diana said. “I was hoping for a climatic Theo vs Chris final battle,” Hal admitted, “but it seems the locals are not to be underestimated.” “That’s one lesson to take from it,” replied Isabella with a laugh, “another is to not mess around so much in combat.” Before long Theo joined the small group in the royal booth, responding to some good natured ribbing with grace, and a few self-deprecating jokes of his own. As he was getting settled in the next bout began, Hal didn’t recognize either combatant so he leaned back to spend another hour pretending to be interested. As he did so he caught a glimpse of a gem on his collar that was glowing, it was the invisible detection item he’d created. His breath caught in his throat, it had a short range, barely ten meters so whoever was triggering it was close. Hal turned his head as though to look at whichever one of his friends was speaking at the time, but he tuned them out to listen behind himself while peering out of the corner of his eye. He couldn’t hear anything over the clashing of weapons below and the various shouts and cheers of the crowd. The arena was hastily built, and the build quality has suffered somewhat, something the knight was instantly glad of when he saw one floorboard flex as though someone was carefully stepping on it, but no person was visible. Standing up fast enough to knock his chair over Hal got into a casting stance. “Shockwave,” he half shouted, the dark blue runes appearing around his outstretched hand and moments later discharging a wave of energy down the short hallway leading out the back of the booth. He was grateful no servant had chosen that moment to walk behind him as the blast of energy ripped down the hall, wall mounted banners and tapestries shook and several were torn from their hangers. But what held Hal’s attention was the clearly caught off guard men who appeared, their invisibility spell disrupted, and several of them falling onto their backs as the spell caught them mid step. “Blade Call,” at level twenty blade call had improved so the weapon no longer flew to his hand but simply appeared in it, materializing in a pulse of blue light. One of the assassins, and there was no other word Hal could apply to them, charged, brandishing a pair of wickedly curved knives. His face twisted in surprise as Spero-Arcanis cut through the dagger he’d placed to parry Hal’s attack, the look became shock and pain as the weapon continued through his arm, black leather armor, torso and out the other side. The rest of the group was only just starting to react as Hal jumped over the still breathing corpse of the first assassin to attack the second. All four of the men were dressed identically in black leather that was embroidered in a deep red forming barely visible glyphs and runes. In the back of his mind Hal recognized the largest of the symbols as that of the warmaster, a hand reaching upwards towards a flame. But he had more pressing matters as the second assassin dodged the thrust of the knight’s great weapon. With a spin and twist twin cuts appeared in Hal’s side, the assassin danced past to reach the others of the guild but was met with a barrage of fire spells. Hal ignored the burning pain in his side, focusing on the three remaining assassins, wishing he’d worn at least a light chain shirt under his tunic. Hal started a thrust at the next man in line, only to pull back and reverse it into a slash when the legion rogue dodged. The body hadn’t hit the ground when Hal was forced to parry a double slash from the third assassin. “Diana’s been poisoned!” he heard Croft shout form behind him, confirming in his mind that the burning pain in his side where he’d been cut wasn’t just from the wounds themselves. “Cure her!” the knight shouted back, pushing the assassin he was tangled with back and trying to land a quick slash but missing as the skilled assassin moved with the push and flipped back out of reach just in time to avoid the attack. “You’re poisoned too!” “Save her!” Hal bellowed, charging forward as a cluster of arrows from Isabella’s bow took out the rearmost assassin. The knight entered into a complex exchange of blows with the remaining two assassins, parrying, dodging or just tanking their attacks. No more arrows came, the beast master unable to get a shot around the rapidly moving melee. And in the enclosed space of the royal booth she couldn’t reposition to get a better angle. “Avatar of Arcane Might,” Hal growled as he thought he spotted an opening to cast, still taking another cut on his shoulder as he returned to fighting after casting. Long snakes of blue lightning danced up his body as the spell burnt through the arcane potential he’d built up. The man who’d just cut him didn’t get away, underestimating Hal’s speed with the spell active, the legendary blade cutting clean through his body. Excess energy from the attack lashed out at the wooden structure behind him, leaving deep furrows where Hal’s blade hadn’t even touched. The final assassin turned to run, fleeing in panic down the hallway. Hal pushed off with one foot, the world blurring past him. The best way he could describe using arcane avatar was trying to hit a target with a baseball bat when traveling at highway speeds. He timed the attack right, the dark blade reducing the legion assassin to a pile of so many limbs, but, possibly distracted by the pain, Hal failed to stop in time. He glanced off the side of the hallway, his sword cutting through the wood and cloth tapestries even as Hal struggled to regain control. He planted his foot, coming to a sudden and seemingly inertia-less stop through the logic of the spell. The attack, however, continued a short distance, curving up the wall and across the ceiling before stopping. “Dismiss Avatar,” Hal said carefully, not wanting to move again with the spell going. Once the lightning had vanished he turned and limped back towards the booth. Diana was on the ground breathing heavily while Croft tended to her, the ranger skill to cure poison controlling his movements as he applied herbs, bandages and dabs of water seemingly at random. “I’ll get to you next,” Croft assured him, not looking up from his work. “I knew I should have gotten that skill too,” Isabella cursed herself, rummaging through her pack for a moment before pulling out a potion and tossing it to Hal who barely caught it, “anti-toxin, should keep you up till Croft’s finished.” Hal nodded and downed the foul tasting potion before casting greater reinforce body on himself which, if he remembered correctly, also gave a bonus to poison resistance. Dropping Spero-Arcanis on the small drink table he half collapsed onto the ground to wait his turn. He fumbled to pull his slate out, Theo and Isabella covering the hallway incase any more assassins appeared. Finding the party page he was relieved to see that Ash and Pearce’s health bars were both full, while Eric was ‘out of range.’ His health bar, however, was getting perilously small. Poisons did damage, they’d found, but also reduced max health until they were cured making simply healing less effective and even killing the target eventually if not dealt with. Hal knew this well, having spent several hours researching poisons after the death of Gordon. “Burning cure,” a soft voice said besides him, and a light blue flame seemed to burst from the knight’s wounds. Looking up Diana was back on her feet, a look of deep concern in her eyes even as her spell burnt away at the poison in his system. Croft was staring at his own slate, willing the natural cure ranger skill to cooldown faster. Burning cure undid some of the max health damage done by the poison but didn’t cure it. It was a race between his slowly ticking down heath and Croft’s cooldown, which, if Hal remembered, wasn’t that long. If it was short enough, however, he didn’t know. “Diana,” he gasped, reaching for her hand, pulling her down to sit beside him. She held his hand and looked him in the eyes trying to smile, as though everything would be fine, but he knew her well enough to see she was holding back tears. He pulled her closer, “if I don’t make it-.” “You’ll make it,” she replied in a voice that, despite her attempts, cracked with emotion. “I love you,” Hal whispered just for her, tears began to flow from her eyes as her false smile faltered. Before she could reply Croft grabbed the knight by the shoulder and pushed him onto his back. “Natural cure,” the druid said, his hands beginning to move to remove the toxin. Relief flooded Diana’s face, once the skill started the effects of the poison were paused until it was either interrupted or completed. Croft smirked as he began the process of curing Hal, “we’ll get you back on your feet soon enough Romeo.” “You can’t just drop that bomb on me like that?” Diana half shouted later that evening, “not while you’re dying!” After the assassins were dealt with and Hal cured of the poison, they had secured the area, finding the two guards to the royal booth dead, throats slit with the same daggers their attackers had used. No other assassins had been discovered, whether that meant they got away or there weren’t any more they had no idea. A few civilians were found dead a couple floors down on the stairs, presumably they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Once they felt reasonably safe they began the investigation. Croft was casting every divination spell he knew on whatever he could think of that might give information. Pearce had begun asking his minstrel network, seeing if he couldn’t trace the assassins back to how they got into the nation. The most upset from the attack was, oddly, Sir Ade who considered the attack on Hal a personal affront to the Promethium Knights. He’d asked Hal for permission to expand the small order to a couple dozen, promising to take care of the vetting and training of each man to join. The tourney had been paused for an hour or so, but Hal insisted it resume same day, unwilling to let a failed attack disrupt the event. He had readily agreed to move to Prometheus for the rest of the day, just in case. Now he stood atop his tower over the main keep of the floating castle with Diana, getting chewed out for some reason. “I didn’t want to die without saying it,” Hal replied. “And what if you did die? What would that do to me?” She insisted, “If you’d said it before hand, and simply wanted it to be your last words that’s one thing, but just dropping that on me in that moment?” “I’ll remember that next time I’m dying in the arms of the woman I love,” the knight said dryly. “Good,” the mage grumbled, folding her arms and collapsing in the chair next to Hal. After a moment of silence, she continued, “you don’t want to know my response?” “If you’re willing to tell me, or you could save it for when you’re dying to punish me.” “Tempting,” the mage said, then once again spent a long time silent, “but I feel the same way. I don’t know when it happened, at first, I just thought you were a nice guy I could find some companionship in. But now… yes, I love you too.” Hal smiled in response, taking her hand in his. “I’m not good at this emotional stuff,” Hal admitted after another long silence. “Me either,” Diana agreed, “change the topic before we both feel super awkward?” “I was planning to start construction on the loading ramp for Prometheus today,” the knight replied, “probably give the go ahead tomorrow now though.” “How will it even work? One hell of a ramp to reach this height.” “It’ll only be thirty or forty feet long, after it extends.” “That won’t be enough to reach the ground, unless you’ve got some magical shenanigans planned.” “No shenanigans, though I do have to add another scrying point to the main console,” Hal replied, “I plan to simply land Prometheus in a river or lake when we need to use the ramp.” “That’s… why didn’t we think of that sooner?” “Cause we’re stupid?” Hal offered with a smile, “it’s actually surprisingly common in engineering, people think of increasingly complex answers to a question that has a stupidly simple solution. Assembly lines are simpler than cottage industries once you understand it. Jet engines have one moving part, while internal combustion engines have dozens if not hundreds.” “So… the answer to moving men and supplies between a magical floating castle and the ground is… a non-magical drawbridge?” asked Diana. “Pretty much, although I do plan to use some strengthening enchants on the bridge, just to ensure it holds.” “But just chains and winches to raise or lower it?” “Got some stone singers to alter the gatehouse to handle the bridge. That’ll be the hardest part of the construction, apparently singing enchanted super hard stone is difficult. And most of the singers, including master Janel, are at the stolen sky tower construction site.” At that moment a couple servants, escorted by a paranoid Sir Ade, walked out onto the tower top, platters of food and drink in hand. Between the sunset, food and company it ended up a nice evening, despite the attack. Chris had been doing well in the tourney thus far, all things considered. He’s easily secured the win in the melee against a knight errant named Sir Thompson. Considering the level advantage he’d had it was hardly fair, and unlike Theo he was taking it very seriously. His use of superior strength, skills and knowledge of game mechanics had beaten the much older knight down within a minute, to the chagrin of the audience. But there was a reason the winner would the person with the most points between both the melee and joust. It was partly because that’s how things were done on Tiadas and partly because the kingdom was starting an order of mounted knights, so prowess in the saddle was a must. At least, that’s what they told Chris, and while true the final reason was they were trying to challenge him. He’d spent the days leading up to the tourney learning to joust with Eric, several knights of the Promethium Order offered to help, but were rejected. Probably a mistake seeing as Eric had only slightly more experience with jousting than Chris but it was his choice. Despite the lack of experience he’d done well in the first rounds of the joust, some passive champion skills assisting him with a lance as they did his normal spears. Later rounds he’d struggled, muddling through with some wins on points rather than straight victory despite his level advantage. All of which lead to this, the semi-final match of the joust. Once again Sir Thompson was his opponent, and the crowd loved the rematch and revenge story the announcers were spinning. Both men kneed their horses into the first pass of the match, and it was clear early on that Thompson had Chris beat on technique, saving lowering his lance for the right moment while the champion was mostly relying on his raw strength. The crowd held its collective breath as both lances made contact with their opposite, but while Chris leaned into the attack Thompson tilted his shield out, deflecting the blow away while his own slammed into Chris’ shield, showering the pitch in a hail of splinters as the lance broke. Thompson played to the cheering, holding the shattered lance aloft while a squire got him a replacement. Chris, on the other hand, looked pissed as he righted himself in his saddle, angrily grabbing a new lance while wheeling his horse around. Again, both horses broke into a gallop at the urging of their riders, thundering down the hard-packed dirt. This time the lances themselves hit one another, the blunted tips bouncing off one another with a muffled crack. Chris used his greater strength to full effect, keeping the lance on target while Thompson nearly lost his grip on his own weapon. This meant it was Chris’s turn to shatter a lance on his opponents shield, adding to the plethora of wood fragments that had built up on the track despite the best efforts of the cleaners. Near as Hal could tell this tied the score, leaving both men with one pass in their favor. The third and final pass would decide the match, at least that’s what Hal had been told. Apparently if it ended in a tie they would make up to another three passes till a winner emerged. After that Hal had no idea what happened, no match had gone that far. Both riders lined up on the track, Thompson lifting his new lance in salute to Chris who halfheartedly returned the gesture. Clearly playing to the crowd Thompson pulled his horse into rearing while lifting his lance high as the final pass began. It was easy to tell that both men were completely focused, and the crowd was dead silent, leaving the pounding of hooves to echo around the stadium unopposed. Like the first pass both of their lances hit, but there was a critical difference that Hal barely caught as it happened. Chris’s lance hit his opposite’s shield while Thompson landed his in the middle of Chris’s breastplate. Despite the curving of the armor he kept the lance wedged as the movement of the horses lifted Chris from his saddle. The wood of the weapon finally gave way to an explosion of splinters, followed closely with the dull thud of a man hitting the ground. The crowd erupted in cheers, the underdog had come back to win in the end. What’s more Thompson demounted his horse and went to help Chris to his feet, while any words between them were lost to the roar of the crowd. All Hal saw was Chris stomping from the field. There were two more matches before the tourney ended, the last semi-final and the winner of that match against Thompson. Winning the final bout Thompson came away with a second and first place finish, putting him above Chris’s first and third place. That left Chris at second overall, though he turned down to join the new knightly order which was to be lead by Sir Thompson. Hal only hoped the other player wouldn’t fall into a pit of despair after this. But the next order of business was the raid and Hal didn’t have time for much else. “Not much of a tower,” Eric said as they walked up to the large spire of stone, in a field of smaller stone spires, all of which looked like natural formations with no pattern. “There’s a reason they called it the circle of the hidden star,” Hal replied, the pointed to several surrounding stones, “supposedly these spires form a solar calendar of sorts. The first mages of the circle carved them out to look natural, including the surrounding field of them.” Field was an understatement, as the veritable forest of spires stretched out in all directions like a god had dropped massive stone needles everywhere. The tallest was nearly a hundred feet from base to tip, and was supposedly marked the main tower. “So, how do we get in?” “There’s no direct entrance to the main spire, apparently,” Diana said, “we’ll have to find the entrance to one of the other spires, then brave the labyrinth to reach it.” “Labyrinth?” Isabella asked. “And underground maze that serves as the only physical entrance to many of the spires, normally they just teleport or gate in. Back when the circle still controlled the tower anyways. They wanted a back way they could use without magic, but wanted to keep it secure. Therefore, labyrinth.” “It was also filled with illusions designed to mislead people,” Hal added, “though it’s unlikely those are still around.” “That’ll make it easier to navigate,” Theo commented, “though I’m guessing some monsters moved in since.” “Once we find an entrance to the Labyrinth, we won’t be leaving till we find the tomes and scrolls we need,” Hal added unnecessarily, “but we have no leads on which spires have external entries, right?” “Correct,” Diana nodded. “Well, let’s make use of our new hippogriffs, teams of two at a minimum. If you find an entrance to a tower send us all a message, don’t go in without the full raid. I’ve no idea what we’ll find inside.” “So long as it isn’t a bloody Minotaur,” Croft grumbled loudly, “that cliché is worn out.” “Unless one moved in since, unlikely,” Hal agreed, “I don’t even know if they’re native to this region.” “They aren’t,” Chris said in a flat voice, already moving to mount his own hippogriff. After loosing the joust he’d been distant, moreso than normal. Hal still hoped he’d bounce back, and considered it a good indication that he was still showing up to train with Eric daily. “They’re native to the islands south of the coastlands,” he continued, “one would have to cross the entire world to get here.” “Call it a low chance of minotaur then,” Hal said dryly, “well, let the search begin!” ((Hope everyone enjoys, no bonus lore this week, been a long week for me. Feel free to bother me about this on discord, where I should be on most days. Chapter 38 is up on Patreon for a buck a month. As always, feel free to comment below. Map by thegurw ))
By popular demand here is my SpaceX post. SpaceX is very different from Tesla, it's a private company that only deals with government and corporations and yet has a high public profile and popular following. This post is meant to give deep background and context to what SpaceX does and the environment and conditions in which it functions. The post is divided into (almost independent) sections with a summary at the end of each one for ease of reading, enjoy.
U.S. Government Industrial Policy
The US government is infamous for its lack of long-term strategic vision due to democratically elected representatives who loathe spending money on anything that can't be explained to the voters and presidents who hate projects that take more than term limits to complete. Because of this the US suffered many embarrassments in its history: neglecting its navy after the War of 1812, neglecting its army after WWI, neglecting rocketry after WWII, etc. The US is also endowed with a great and very productive economy which enable it to channel vast sums of money and resources at any problem and solve it in record time and even overtake its counterparts. The method the US government has chosen to execute this since WWI is to give huge contracts to capable companies, these contracts would finance the R&D of the technology, the capital expenditure on plant and equipment and the production cost of the product itself plus profits for the company of course. The owners of the company that is awarded the contract get to keep the plant, the designs, the patents and sell the product to third parties and since the US government kindly financed the R&D and capital expenditure on plants and equipment their product is highly competitive and is exported to many countries or sold to the public if there is a civilian use for it. That's how the US fostered and supported its corporations since WWI. I will give one example from WWI: The Linclon Motor Company, Henry Leland was one of the founders of the Cadillac Automobile Company, left that company to manufacture engines for the government during WWI. He got a $10,000,000 contract (in 1917 money!) to build the Liberty V12 aircraft engine a design that was owned by the US government (up to the end of WWII the US would take ownership of the design if they financed it); the contract was only to manufacture it (they gave manufacturing contracts to several companies, not only him), he then built the Lincoln Motor Company Plant to assemble it from parts sourced from other companies, producing 6,500 engines. Afterwards he retooled and produced the Lincoln L-Series. The US government basically gifted him a factory. This method greatly expanded in WWII and afterwards with the US government paying basically for everything from the basic science research (via public universities, National Science Foundation, etc), the early R&D, testing and finally the actual cost of production and the company gets to keep all the technology and tools and sell the product to third-parties and keep all the profits. All this is documented in public records, this gifting of millions of dollars from the public purse is not a secret. This is true for every jet fighter, bomber, tank, gun, computer, satellite—and as we shall see below—space rocket the US government buys. In Summary: The US government fully finances the development of new technologies, the plants to build them, then buys the products and gifts the rest to the corporation. It might resemble feudalism more than capitalism with the king/government giving out land/money to their retainers for services rendered, but it is the reality of the US today.
The U.S. Lags Behind, Again!
When the Soviet Union launched Sputnik the shock of discovering that the US now lags behind was so big the moment has become a proverb: A Sputnik Moment. The US poured money into rocketry in an effort to catch up but the Soviet Union kept getting all the records: first orbit, first animal, first man, first woman, first spacewalk. Of course the US response was to pour so much money into such an “impossible” goal that it would overshadow the Soviet Union: it built the mighty Saturn V and put a man on the Moon, the space race was settled. Although the space race was settled life went on after the Apollo program achieved its goal and the US chose to build a revolutionary Space Shuttle using liquid hydrogen engines that take off once a week and can be re-used many times, the shuttle would have sustained an eventual orbital station but the reality was it consumed so much resources that no development was done on the eventual station to be serviced. The Soviet Union chose to build simple space stations using the existing technology, the cosmonauts would take off in orbiters not so different from Vostok 1 (Yuri Gagarin's orbiter) in its conception on a variant of the R-7 rocket that was used in that first mission. All of the Soviet (first stage) engines used kerosene similar to the mighty Saturn V's first stage, using the more powerful liquid hydrogen was too expensive and technically demanding for a Soviet Union less than 15 years from desolation. The Space Shuttle turned into a strategic failure: re-usability was minimal as the shuttle needed solid-fuel boosters to get into orbit and major refurbishment to reuse the engines. It would launch twice or three times in a year instead of once per week and although the number of US astronauts increased dramatically in the 80's the reality was most of them were staying about a week in orbit. The Soviet Union incrementally developing their technology and sticking with the kerosene engines had a series of space stations in orbit then in 1986 started building the world's first modular space station (another first!)--and the direct predecessor of the International Space Station (ISS)--the: Mir Space Station The US got lucky and instead of catching up it benefited from the desolation of the Soviet Union and became a partner in the Mir program, re-learning what was lost since Skylab (the US space station launched by the mighty Saturn V), it was able to dock the shuttle to Mir, US astronauts spent time in a space station and work started on ISS, which was built on the Russian core module Zvezda an incremental development from Mir and without it ISS would not have been possible. This luck would actually make the US complacent and they would concentrate on the more glamours aspects of space while depending on the Russians for the mundane, their famous lack of strategic vision would strike again: the lifetime of the Space Shuttle nearing its end without a viable rocket to supply the US part of ISS or even put astronauts to orbit. At the same time commercial satellites were becoming a boom business but the two main companies with rockets to launch them, Boeing & Lockheed Martin, combined in 2006, into a single company called ULA: United Launch Alliance. Lucrative government (Pentagon & NASA) contracts and no other competitor would make ULA an exclusive government contractor uninterested in competing against low-cost commercial launchers, namely: Europe, Russia, China and India. ULA even sources the first stage kerosene engine for the Atlas V rocket from Russia, as long as the US government is paying why not source a reliable Russian engine and bill the government for it. The realization that the US lacked rockets to service the manned space program and compete in the commercial market was another Sputnik moment, it spurred the government into another spending spree to catch up, a spending spree that would benefit anyone who had the vision to develop a low-cost kerosene engine, in the next section we'll meet such visionary. In Summary: By 2005 the US was facing the reality of the Space Shuttle retirement without a replacement launcher to send astronauts to ISS or a supply spacecraft to supply them there. At the same time it became apparent that commercial rocket launching is booming and the US did not have a single viable provider.
A Brilliant Engineer and the Merlin
Tom Mueller: is the son of a logger who himself worked at logging to pay for his education, eventually obtaining a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering he worked for TWR, an automotive and aerospace conglomerate, and was the lead on the liquid hydrogen TR-106 rocket engine. one of the most powerful engines ever built. This engine used a pintle injector: a device that was developed (by a TWR division) for the Apollo program which was of course funded by NASA, we shall see the same device later. This man's ingenuity and achievement is what gave the US a chance to get into the commercial rocket launches that had been dominated by Europe, Russia and newcomers: China and India. Since he is the specialist in rocket engines, here is a good place to discuss them. Liquid fuel engines are conceptually very easy and they have changed very little since the first operational rocket: the German V-2. Such a rocket has two tanks containing an oxidizer, usually liquid oxygen, and fuel; the two are mixed under pressure in a burning chamber then the resulting gas exit through a nozzle that force it into supersonic speeds. Oxygen liquefies at −182.96 degree C and in case of an emergency it can simply be vented into the atmosphere which is already 20% oxygen by composition. The problem of liquid fuel engines is in the fuel part. The Germans used ethanol (alcohol) for the V-2 which is liquid at normal conditions. The Soviet Union used kerosene for its space program rockets (the vital first stage and not necessary all stages). The US also used kerosene in the mighty Saturn V first stage. The type used in rockets, called RP-1, is a highly refined type of kerosene which is liquid at normal conditions. Kerosene has more energy than ethanol per unit of weight: 46 vs 29 MJ/kg, but it is dwarfed by hydrogen at 141 MJ/kg (source). Thus using hydrogen “releases more energy per unit mass during combustion, enabling a higher exhaust velocity ” as Wikipedia explains. The problem of hydrogen is that unlike kerosene it is a gas that needs to be liquefied and at normal conditions it is about 70 degrees colder than liquid oxygen: −252.87 vs −182.96 degree C and if anything goes wrong or the launch is scrapped the liquid hydrogen can not be vented into the atmosphere and has to be pumped out of the rocket and processed. This is the fuel chosen by NASA for the Space Shuttle, which was supposed to launch on a weekly basis: a volatile cryogenic highly explosive expensive gas abandoning the cheap reliable liquid fuel that was the standard. The liquid hydrogen engine is a sport car, an Arabian horse, the gold-plated high-tech rocket engine that only the government can afford and the US discovered too late that commercial payloads are better handled by cheaper rockets; what was needed was a kerosene engine, that is the SUV, the workhorse, the reliable over-engineered (no pun intended) engine that took man to space first and then to the Moon. By 2001 the US had no kerosene engine in development, that's when a brilliant engineer, Tom Mueller, would start developing one in a garage, he of course did not invent anything new he basically made an engine similar to the Saturn V first stage engine. I have no knowledge about that engine's design but one would think it was similar to what he has done before, I also have no knowledge how much of that engine would go into the Merlin but since the Falcon 1 would launch only 4 years after SpaceX founding with a Merlin and a vacuum-optimized stripped-down version called the Kestrel, I think it's safe to assume the garage engine was developed into the Merlin, maybe they only differ in material and production based design. What we do know is that the Merlin uses a pintle injector, that Apollo program technology used in TWR's TR-106 under Mueller's lead; I think it is safe to assume, although we can't know for sure, that his garage engine also had a pintle. This and many other developments funded by the vast sums invested by the government is what made it possible for a private company in 2002 to build a rocket engine. It's very easy to climb a mountain specially if you ride to the top on a government-funded helicopter. As to the beating heart of an engine that would be the turbopump: anyone can connect a tank of oxygen with a tank of kerosene and funnel the fire out of a nozzle, but that won't get you a rocket engine, at best you'll end up with a novelty flamethrower; what makes the engine is the turbopump that pumps the two elements and force them to combine and exit under high pressure generating thrust. The turbopump in the first Merlin engines was designed and produced by Barber-Nichols, if there is anything remarkable about it then it was kept out of the Media, as far as I can see it's just a bespoke turbopump. A classic design, technology developed by NASA, critical components sourced from established suppliers that is, in summary, the Merlin engine, nothing revolutionary nothing extraordinary. Indeed two different US rocket companies buy similar engines from Russia, but then headlines like: “Inside SpaceX’s Revolutionary Merlin Engines That Could Take Us to Mars” get published without explaining what is so “revolutionary” about it, indeed the word “revolution” is not mentioned once in the body of that article. This kind of hyperbolic claims has been the norm for SpaceX coverage which greatly skews the context (plus the Merlin is not even the engine SpaceX intends to use for Mars). As to Mueller I am not really surprised that not many people have heard of this man, not only is the Media not interested in him (the above cited article doesn't mention him for example) but even on Wikipedia his role is not given its due: he is mentioned once on History of SpaceX in a context that make it seem he was recruited to work in his specialty: “In early 2002 Musk was seeking staff for the new company and approached rocket engineer Tom Mueller,” when in reality Musk went to see his garage engine and Mueller basically co-founded SpaceX with his engine to Musk's money. He is mentioned once on the Merlin engine family in a context of a statement he made in 2015 and nothing about his early work or the fact that he is the chief designer of the whole family! Mueller seems to be very happy having achieved success and either he does not seek the limelight or can live with the fact that only people in the business know his name. One would expect that Mueller who holds a Masters degree, who have experience in designing and building rocket engines, who built the most valuable thing SpaceX has, namely the Merlin engine would be SpaceX Chief Technology Officer but it seems Musk who has a Bachelor in Physics and a degree in Economic from a business school and became a businessman is more suited to being SpaceX CTO while Mueller is given the very specific title of “Chief Technology Officer of Propulsion.” In Summary: Mueller is a brilliant engineer who started the development of a kerosene engine in a garage which later became the Merlin engine, he co-founded SpaceX and is doing a great job developing engines for its rockets.
A Brilliant Executive
Gwynne Shotwell : the daughter of a surgeon she obtained, with honors, a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mathematics; she worked at The Aerospace Corporation: a nonprofit corporation that operates a federally funded research and development center providing technical guidance and advice on all aspects of space missions to military, civil, and commercial customers. In 1998 Shotwell left to become director of the space systems division at Microcosm Inc. a company that does “space mission engineering [for] commercial, military, and scientific missions from small, low-cost programs to multi-billion dollar, multi-satellite constellations and a family of launch vehicles.” After four years at Microcosm Shotwell joined SpaceX in the year of its founding, she was its eleventh employee, as vice president of business development with a seat on the SpaceX board of directors. Today she is the President and Chief Operating Officer (COO) of SpaceX, I can't date exactly when she got that position but her role in making SpaceX what it is today is undisputed as one article puts it: “[she] played a crucial role in the $2 billion contract with NASA, ensuring a healthy turnaround when the company was down and out in 2008.” - we will discuss in detail the 2008 events in the next section. As with Mueller she lives in the shadow of Musk who hugs all the limelight, on the SpaceX Wikipedia page she is mentioned only once: in the company infobox and otherwise only in the titles of articles in the sources section as one would expect; for who is better to inform the public than the President and COO who is actually in the offices every day instead the Wikipedia article (reflecting the general Media) make it seem as if SpaceX is run by its celebrity CEO who is also the CEO of an automotive company, a tunnel digging company, who opened a private school for his children, who constantly giving presentations and a daily twitter user. Shotwell's profile is much higher than Mueller, partly because her position is higher and because the Media love the story of a woman leading a tech company. She seem just as happy as Mueller and accepting whatever working with Musk entails—from Mars missions to overshadowing her—because for her personally heading a company like SpaceX was probably not even something she dreamed of doing when working at Microcosm. In Summary: The President & COO of SpaceX is a brilliant executive with exactly the right educational background, the right experience with government and space companies to lead SpaceX and she has done an incredible job and achieved great success.
The Falcon 1
In the late 1950's NACA (the predecessor of NASA) designed the SCOUT rocket using existing military rockets combined to form a multi-stage solid fuel rocket capable of launching small satellites into Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The SCOUT rocket family were very successful: used from 1961 to 1994. In 2002 SpaceX started the development of the Falcon 1 a two-stage liquid fuel rocket with a single Merlin in the first stage and a single Kestrel in the second. The payload was similar to the SCOUT rocket successfully developed 45 years before and yet despite all the accumulated knowledge, improvement in tools and materials, the use of existing parts for the engines and the rocket, the Falcon 1 failed 3 out of its five launches. The firs three were all failures; the first successful launch was in September 2008 carrying a test load but by the end of 2008 SpaceX had run out of funds and was still to launch a useful payload and with only one contract (a 180 kg satellite in LEO) the company was going into Christmas facing bankruptcy. SpaceX ambition for the Falcon 1 was to be a testbed for the technology and also provide financing to continue developing a larger rocket and a supply spacecraft for ISS. The Falcon 1 was built with private funds without government contract or a guarantee but as we shall see below all private-funded development amounted to no more than showing NASA that they are credible and can be awarded a contract similar to other established contractors (this is not unique to SpaceX most contractors spend their capital proving to the government they can do the job and not actually developing anything commercially useful). Developing a small rocket that can put a small payloads into LEO in the hope of turning that into a profitable operation that funds the rest of the company turned out to be a failure. We shall see in the next section how SpaceX became a success. In Summary: Building on technology developed by the US government in the 1960's and with the use of modern materials, computers and design processes SpaceX managed to almost bankrupt itself developing a rocket on par with a 45 year old vehicle.
The Falcon 9 and the Dragon
In this section we can read our story in NASA Inspector General report (PDF) about the supply contracts for ISS (I told you everything is in public records), I will be quoting from it below, labeled: IG report. The Dragon supply spacecraft and its rocket the Falcon 9 were started in 2006 funded by NASA: “Between 2006 and 2008, NASA entered into a series of funded agreements with Orbital ATK and SpaceX to stimulate U.S. commercial development of transportation systems capable of providing cargo delivery services to the ISS.... Orbital ATK and SpaceX ultimately contributed more than 50 percent of the development costs of their respective spaceflight systems while receiving more than $700 million from NASA...” - (IG report, emphasis added). At the end of 2008 the company was heading towards bankruptcy, As ArsTechnica puts it : “the company appeared poised to go bankrupt as it struggled to meet payroll in late 2008. Even as its cash ran out, SpaceX was in the midst of capital-intensive transition from the single-engine Falcon 1 rocket to the much more complex Falcon 9 rocket.” The Market has spoken: SpaceX is a loser. Fortunately for SpaceX the US government was in the business of choosing winners and losers and realizing that the US had no way to supply ISS and they would have to depend on the Russians for both the launching of astronauts and supply they decided to open their purse and “In 2008, while development efforts were still underway, NASA awarded fixed-price contracts with task orders initially valued at $1.9 billion and $1.6 billion to Orbital ATK and SpaceX, respectively, for 20 cargo resupply missions to the ISS through 2016” - (IG report, emphasis added) Orbital ATK would develop the Cygnus supply craft and launch it on the Antares rocket using a Russian-made kerosene engine (first launch 2013) while SpaceX would finish developing the Dragon supply craft and launch it on the Falcon 9 using US-made kerosene engine (first launch 2010). The Falcon 1 was quickly retired after fulfilling that single contract, even though SpaceX was four years from the Falcon 9 first launch; clearly there was no profit to be made from it and it was nothing but a technology demonstrator. This contract saved SpaceX or as ArsTechnica puts it: “Without NASA there would be no SpaceX” nor would there be Cygnus spacecraft or ISS or Saturn V or a moon landing and without the US deep pockets there wouldn't be an Internet or a national highway connecting the US or a transcontinental railway or even the Panama canal. Still people think that SpaceX has developed space rockets and spacecrafts for a few hundred million dollars of private funding! The contract would be extended to “a total of 31 missions...worth $5.9 billion, or an average cost of $191.3 million per mission” (IG report, emphasis added). SpaceX has launched the 15th supply mission in June 2018, While Orbital ATK launched the ninth in May 2018; leaving 7 more supply missions under the extended 2008 contract. The cost per launch for the Falcon 9 is advertised as $62 million and yet NASA pays $191 million, does the Dragon costs $130 million or does the Cygnus mission cost several hundred millions skewing the average, or maybe SpaceX is selling cheap commercial launches because the average cost in the report includes the development money while the $61 million is the cost of manufacturing and launching only? We have no way of knowing the true total economic cost of a Falcon 9 launch, but if I am right then NASA has helped SpaceX reduce the cost of commercial launches, this is actually the justification of the US industrial policy of generous give outs: it brings the prices down for corporations and individuals. Unfortunately SpaceX, and the Media, has fostered the illusion that all of this was done with “private” funding and it proves that private companies can have a space program surpassing that of NASA, the main benefactor of SpaceX! SpaceX claimed in 2014 that NASA provided $396 million towards the development of the Dragon and the Falcon 9 (shouldn't NASA own part of the IP then?) and SpaceX provided $450 million, but the total funding rounds of SpaceX up to 2014 was $258.4 million (source) which mostly funded the development of the Merlin and the Falcon 1. The big funding round was in 2015 when lead investor Google bet big on the company after the success of the Falcon 9/Dragon resupply missions. So how could SpaceX a company that was only funded to the tune of $260 million contribute $450 million to the development of the Dragon/Falcon 9? Well my theory (and it is impossible to know exactly) is that as the contract given to them by NASA was guaranteed (press release on SpaceX website) all they had to do is walk to the nearest bank and show that they can fulfill the contract and the bank would discount the contract's value the same way bills are discounted, the more probable SpaceX can fulfill it the more cash they get. Guaranteed government contracts are like bonds and it's easier for NASA to guarantee contracts and let the banks finance the project than paying cash from the annual budget, so in my opinion the funding provided by SpaceX was predicated on getting the guaranteed contracts in the first place. In 2016 when both companies had operational vehicles NASA issued a new contract for supplying ISS, but now the companies were only guaranteed 6 missions each (IG report). Having stood both suppliers up by funding and guaranteed contracts NASA now has a more familiar customesupplier relations with them (a third company, Sierra Nevada, was also awarded a contract but is yet to launch). This is how the US functions, they chose winners and losers they have been doing it for a long time now. SpaceX is not the first and will not be the last, it's not the biggest nor the smallest, it's not doing the worst job nor is it doing something revolutionary, as another headline claims the Dragon is revolutionary. The only new thing the Dragon has done is to be re-used (after refurbishment) but actually the Space Shuttle was a (very big and expensive) supply craft that was used multiple times. SpaceX is just one of two US companies supplying ISS sharing the honor with the Russian Progress supply craft, both the European and Japanese have domestically designed and built supply spacecrafts, the European one is retired and the Japanese is launching in August 2018. China has its own supply spacecraft based on the design of Progress (which they bought from the Russians) and has been launched and fully tested. Of all the supply spacecrafts the Russian Progress has the most launches (157 missions to ISS to the Dragon's 15), being in use since 1978 when it supplied Salyut 6 and being continually developed and improved, it has supplied both Mir space station and ISS and is still in use. In Summary: The $1.6 billion NASA contract at the end of 2008 to resupply ISS saved SpaceX from possible bankruptcy and financed both the development of The Falcon 9 and the Dragon capsule. SpaceX resupply of ISS is a routine operation it shares with Orbital ATK and the Russian space agency. The Falcon 9 is a typical working-horse launch rocket with no exceptional features.
Landing Used First Stage
Landing a rocket is not an impressive achievement when compared with what had been achieved in space and in general. It's a party trick meant to impress people who have never heard of Control Theory and who don't really know how hard it was to land a man on the Moon with early 1960's technology, or land the Curiosity rover on Mars or pick up Voyager's signal from the edge of the solar system decades after its launch, now that's an achievement! The Space Shuttle landing is magnitudes more impressive and the error margin is magnitudes less than landing a spent rocket on a drone ship and yet every single landing of the Shuttle was a success, something that can't be said for the Falcon 9 rockets. If it is not hard then why hasn't other launch providers done it before? Well the answer is very simple because they would bundle multiple payloads together and use all the fuel to put all of them into orbit, without extra fuel they can't land the rockets and they ditch them into the ocean. In reality this party trick has been done years before and Blue Origin did it after SpaceX and foreign competitors have said they will do the same because vertically landing rockets is not actually “rocket science” and SpaceX has no patent on it to prevent everyone else from doing it. When the payload is too big or there are multiple of them leaving no extra fuel, for landing the rockets, SpaceX is more than happy to ditch them into the ocean. We have no way of knowing if recovering the boosters and re-using them is more commercially profitable than bundling payloads to make maximum use of the rocket, as all other commercial launch providers seem to do. I know of no instance when SpaceX deliberately divided the payloads to recover the rocket. The Dragon launches at about 4,200 kg and so there remains extra fuel to land and “save” money, but NASA is actually paying an average of $191 million per launch (see IG report last section) so I am not sure if the eventual saving after costing landing, recovery and refurbishment is worthwhile, but of course we can't know for sure. In Summary: Landing rockets is a party trick to impress simple people. There is no evidence that recovering and reusing rockets is commercially profitable on the long run. Recovering rockets is only possible if the rocket launch capability was not utilized to the maximum.
Government Contracts: US participation in ISS is guaranteed to 2024, so resupply contracts to SpaceX (and Orbital ATK) should continue until then. SpaceX has become a regular in launching NASA satellites and probes and this should continue, they also broke ULA's 10 year monopoly of military launch contracts when they launched, in 2016, a GPS satellite. Days after NASA announced a shift from a human journey to Mars to concentrate on the Moon SpaceX would similarly announce the scaling down of the Mars lander development and concentration on a possible Moon missions (as ArsTechnica puts it: Musk revises his Mars ambitions, and they seem a little bit more real). In my opinion and it is impossible to know for sure: SpaceX was repeating its Dragon gambit, it was positioning itself to receive the eventual NASA contracts and it had no serious intention of self-financing a Mars mission (a burden that eventually proved too high even for NASA's budget to bear). Once NASA changed its goal, so did SpaceX follow suit. New Rockets: The Falcon Heavy a Falcon 9 rocket with two first stages strapped to the side is the next iteration in the Falcon family. SpaceX successfully launched it in February 2018 with a dummy payload and it's scheduled to launch again in October as a certification process for the US Air Force but also with secondary payloads. The dummy payload was about 1,300 kg while the second launch will have a 5,000 kg ballast mass to certify the rocket's capability (source), so real success is the second launch and not the silly spectacle of a car in orbit. The second rocket, the BFR, in development at SpaceX is a bigger more powerful rocket than the mighty Saturn V (!) using a new engine named Raptor fueled by liquid methane (natural gas). While Saturn V first stage had 5 rockets the BFR has 31 Raptor engines in its first stage! The Media reports that is fully funded by SpaceX, but at least the Raptor is being co-funded by the military. Competitors: competition is the biggest headwind facing SpaceX. In the sector of government launch contracts SpaceX is the competition to the established ULA who are currently developing a new rocket and starting to improve their public image realizing at last that the general public is the real customer and not the bureaucrats in the Pentagon or NASA. In the sector of ISS resupply SpaceX was always one of two companies, unfortunately Orbital ATK never played the PR game and so while a lot of people know about and follow the Dragon missions few seem to realize that Cygnus does the same supply missions (and other countries has been doing this mission for a long time), the company was recently acquired by Northrop Grumman so a change might be coming, either leave the sector or expand. A second competitor is on the horizon with a spacecraft named: Dream Chaser, with the look of a miniature Space Shuttle; that should get people to post tweets about it! In the sector of commercial launches the competition is red hot from inside and outside the US, both by government funded launchers and new commercial companies. SpaceX breached the walls of orbit launching and proved that a private company (with generous funding from the government) can supply commercial launches (whether it can do it profitably is still an open question) but just like Tesla this heroic gamble opened the doors to many others who gladly followed in its path. Europe, Russia, China and India who seemed at the end of the 2010's to dominate the commercial launch sector to the exclusion of the US has seen their market share decline and they have stepped up their efforts and are determined to capture their share from the market by hook or crook. Blue Origin is shaping up to be a major player in exactly the same sector that SpaceX now seem to rule. The company is financed by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos to the tune of $1 billion per year and planing on being both an engine supplier and a rocket company; it will put tremendous pressure on SpaceX directly and help other companies transition from their dependency on Russian engines (which has to be regularly exempted from ongoing sanctions and thus represent a high risk). They are developing a new liquid methane (which has more power than kerosene but is less cumbersome than liquid hydrogen) engine: the BE-4, co-developed by ULA for their new rocket. Aerojet Rocketdyne a major US rocket engine supplier, which is supplying NASA with new RS-25 engines for their SLS rocket, is currently developing AR-1 a new kerosene engine. This will also help SpaceX competitors wean themselves off the Russians engines. The Merlin is not going to be the only US made kerosene engine for long. Profitability : SpaceX is a private company so we have no idea if they are making or losing money on every launch, whether they are making money on the government contract and subsidizing the commercial launches or visa versa. We have no idea if they are making enough to invest in new engines and rockets or if they have to raise funds and/or borrow money. As to the claims of profitability by the COO, that's just PR and US courts have clearly ruled PR to be protected under the 1st amendment and so they can claim anything they want as long as they are not selling anything (including shares in the company) based on those claims. With all due respect to Shotwell I believe she is talking about each individual launch being profitable thanks to NASA paying for the development costs, which is a government contractor kind of profitable and not as the Media sells it, i.e. as a “private” company kind of profitable, but I could be wrong and they might be highly profitable. Funding: According to Forbes in early April 2018 “SpaceX authorized a $507 million round of Series I funding...priced at $169 per share, this round would bring SpaceX's total valuation to $25 billion.” They were not able to raise that according to what has been reported (also see CrunchBase link above): “SpaceX says it’s brought in $214 million so far, less than two weeks after the round opened. That leaves $286 million yet to be sold.” The question that has to be asked is why a 16 year old company that has a regular ISS supply contract with NASA, a major share of the world's commercial launches needs to raise so much money? Clearly their profits (if they are making any) is not enough to fund the new rockets/engines or they need to expand more than what they can organically fund. For now the valuation is great and there is lots of money to fund SpaceX, but as we have seen in 2008 market conditions might change rapidly and funding dry up overnight. In Summary: SpaceX is enjoying a leading position in the commercial launch sector, it has ISS resupply contracts to at least 2024, but because of its private nature we have no idea about its financial position. Competition in all sectors is heating up and major players are starting to challenge SpaceX lead.
The United State is the world's greatest economic power and with a few billion dollars it propelled SpaceX from a company on the verge of bankruptcy to the world's leading commercial rocket launch provider, impressive achievement but nothing compared to how it expanded its armament industry in WWI or WWII or how it regained the lead in the space race and achieved its greatest achievement: landing a man on the Moon. in comparison SpaceX is a run-of-the-mill commercial rocket launch provider that might be or might be not profitable. SpaceX is an important part of keeping ISS supplied, of providing launch capability for NASA and the Pentagon and for competing in the commercial rocket launch sector and for the foreseeable future if anything should happen to disrupt its operations the US government has the authority, the deep pockets and is more than willing to intervene and firewall SpaceX to protect it from any turmoil. Any question/comment/correction would be more than welcome, thank you!
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