Saturday, April 16, 2011

Tantrivaylia - A Review

This review is about Tantrivaylia, a player home/quest mod for Oblivion.

I don't normally do full mod reviews. I may mention one that I like; that I think my readers here might like - or I'll mention one that I didn't like; that I removed for some reason or another.

I'm not prone to going in-depth, because my tastes are different from others', and I'm not normally one to simply denigrate a mod on the grounds that it didn't mesh with me.

Still, as a modder myself, Tantrivaylia is something I can not pass up commenting on; and I want to qualify my comments to show you where I'm coming from, and why I'm going to end up saying what I am.

This mod is a wonderful learning example for us modders, because it does some things very right, and some things very, very wrong.

We'll start at the start: installation. Installing the mod is straightforward and simple; with few possibilities of file overwrites. Documentation at first glance is acceptable, if not exhaustive. There are two readmes included with the download, one "normal", one intended to be read only after completing the quest. The one for after the quest doesn't contain any spoilers or useful information, so I'm not sure of the purpose behind it.

On loading a game with the mod active, you'll receive a new quest objective, detailing the rumors you've heard about a town in need of a hero, or something. Enjoy it; this is the high point of the quest.

Here we run into my biggest problem with the mod. The author is one of those... annoying people who hates quest markers. I should probably count myself lucky the mod doesn't have the added "benefit" of removing fast travel, since he's so interested in "immersion".

The quest journal notes the lake the town is on the south shore of. Do you know the names of all the bodies of water in the game? I don't. Fortunately, I hadn't explored heavily in this game yet, and so my map was fairly sparse on markers. It didn't take long to find the town's added marker (not fast travel enabled; so if you haven't been in the area before, have fun on your cross-game-world hike).

I reached the town, to realize again that there was no quest marker. Who in the hell was I supposed to talk to?

I picked the first guy I saw, and got a story about some kidnapped people, monsters in the forest, would I help, yadda yadda. Standard fantasy quest schtick. If you've ever played a D&D quest, you'll know the outline already. He mentions that you should talk to the other residents to get more information; but no one else really has anything useful. Your quest notes will not be updated with any information beyond the first bit.

You're told that there's a weird guy spying on the town, and you should go look for him. He was last seen... heading towards Cheydinhal. Thanks, that narrows it down to the entire northeastern quarter of the blasted country.

Again, without quest markers; I have no idea if I'm supposed to intercept him on the road, if he'll be waylaid at some camp somewhere, or if he made it to town.

Having played many poorly laid-out quests in my day, I took a gamble, and made straight for town. Great; we're in town... quest journal doesn't update. Which building is he in? Is he even really here? Again, I gamble: and take the nearest inn to the eastern gate. Not there, but the innkeeper knows who I'm looking for - apparently he isn't in town at all. Find him out near where he was sighted; talk a little bit, combat ensues - creepy guy gets his ass zapped by Branwen. Turns out attacking a party of four when you're unarmed isn't bright. Who knew?

Note on the corpse from "the master"; who mentions that he will absolutely not reveal the location of the castle. Fuck you, too.

Creepy guy is for some reason carrying this amulet:

Which has nothing to do with his character, or class; or the story. It's just a fat buff with an over the top shield for its own sake, apparently.

Return to beleaguered town, report results; find out that in my absence, there has been an attack. Shock on my part, I assure you. Another girl kidnapped, town protector hurt bad, "they went to the north".

Well thanks for narrowing that down, Skippy.

There's also a mention that there's nothing to the north except the mountains. I want to note that this is patently untrue. Malada is due north of the town; and there are numerous other ruins, caves, and so forth clustered in the area. "Not pertinent to my story" does not equal "nothing".

So, we strike out north. Across the lake, we're attacked by random (but obviously mod-added) enemies. These must be the mysterious warriors I heard about.

They wipe the floor with my companions. Being the sneaky and quick thinking so-and-so I am, I exploit the AI's limitations and jump onto a rock; where I can rain death onto the enemies with impunity. Well, impunity until they start slinging lightning bolts every two seconds. Warriors with high destruction skill. Nice. My silver bow isn't working; so I swap out for something I picked up for special occasions in my favorite store - a Goddess Black bow that does 20pts shock per hit. To top it off, I add some health draining poison. They still take a half dozen arrows a piece, and end up nearly completely draining the enchantment on my bow. I barely survive the lightning storm, but eventually prevail.

Climbing down, I wonder at their toughness, and open the console. A quick click and GetLevel command returns a value of 35. It's going to be one of those days...

From there, I used some profanity, and decided to skip the other parties that were doubtless laying in wait on the straight-line path north from the town I had been on. Instead, I swing wide to the east; around Malada, and come into the mountains off the beaten path. In this manner, I saw no other bands of uber-warriors.

Eventually, I spy a city map-marker on my HUD. Moving closer, it turns out to be a castle. Coming in from the side, I apparently not only subverted the fighting I was supposed to do on the way; but missed the trigger to have the person in front of the castle talk to me. She eventually did; giving me the standard fantasy spiel again. You must be a great warrior to have survived the trip here! (No, Lady; I'm just smarter than a box of rocks and know how to avoid ambush sites...) You must help us! Lord EvilGuy #666 is making us do horrible things and we can't stop him because of our stupid and pointless yet non-binding traditions!

I of course agree to go inside to the safe room and hear her out. Long-lost sub-species of elf; last of their kind; live forever because a Goddess granted them eternal youth as long as they constantly have random sex with each other...

...Wait, what? No... I did read that correctly. Okay, I'm pretty sure I've seen this hentai before...

LordEvilGuy! is a vampire, who took control of the clan and is using their ZOMGSEXMAGIC to gain immortality and ultimate power. (Aren't vampires already immortal?) Okay, now I know I've seen this hentai before! If you remove the vampire aspect, I'm pretty sure this was the plot of Bible Black. Except, you know, they were in a high school and not a magical fantasy land. Then again, for schoolgirl outfits and stockings, I think it's a worthwhile trade in venue...

...Sorry, where was I? Oh, right.

Again, more of the standard spiel. The eeeeeeeeeeevilvampireguy is currently sleeping, but will awaken soon, and I am the only one who can kill him by attacking before he has a chance to feed... et cetera et cetera. Again: play pretty much any D&D module and you'll have read it all before.

Rescue the captives so he can't feed on them, then attack and destroy him while he's "weak". Got it.

Directions to half the castle ensue. This is another problem with the lack of quest markers. Our author did not see fit to append the directions to the quest journal; so if you don't take notes or have a good memory, you get to wander aimlessly looking for the correct part of the large castle. And if you do take notes, take them fast. You have eight seconds worth of silent sound file before the wall 'o text vanishes. This probably isn't a big deal if you have the time to play the quest straight through in one sitting; but if you have to save the game mid-quest and come back later... well, good luck.

Rescue captives. Last one is locked in a sex-chamber with a vampire; running around like a chicken with its head cut off - presumably to avoid being bitten. Kill vampiress... captive keeps on running. This makes it very hard to successfully engage him in conversation to get the little retard to follow you out. I was tempted to simply shoot him. It's hard to run with an arrow in your femur... but I didn't figure the quest would take kindly to me not rescuing everyone.

Return captives to head-sex-elf, who says she's going to hide them somewhere until the fight is over. I guess it would be too much to get to use one as a human shield in the boss fight, huh?

What? When have I ever claimed to be anything but evil?

Another wall 'o text ensues; this time regarding the final battle, where and when and I need to hurry and more directions that aren't committed to my damned journal...

This time I'm ready for it, and am actually paying attention to the wheres. It's still convoluted, as the boss battle takes place three floors up, and across the castle. Couple this with the fact that companions fail to follow through the cell-change doors correctly (more on this later), and I had to backtrack about six times to recollect everyone who had gotten stuck or lost on the way across.

We reach the ambush site, and LORDEVILGUYHAHAI'MSOBAD! is already waiting there for me. Some talky-talky and pointless bravado; and the fight ensues.

It seems LORDEVILGUY! has some goodies added to him. One of them is a staff that knocks down and paralyzes everyone in a twenty foot radius. And he uses it, over and over, until it's completely out of charges. No damage; just endless knocking you all down. Interrupting attacks, stopping spells in mid-cast... Urgh.

Once he runs out of charges for his stick of annoyance, the girls have had enough and decide to cram that thing so far up where the sun don't shine that our vampire friend will be tasting Minwax. We whip his undead ass from one end of the floor to the other.

...He doesn't die. Somehow, he has infinite health, infinite mana, and an unending supply of master-level summons and shock spells. Tesla would be proud. Since he's throwing these things all at me, and every five odd seconds, sheer weight of numbers eventually gets me; as I fail to dodge one too many of his endless spells.

I die.

So, fine; I reload, and try again - this time I pull out all the stops. We gon' get medieval on his ass. I summon in a full party of six companions, make sure everyone has weapons that bypass immunity; break out my Goddess bow - and have Branwen recharge it, the rest of my cold arrows, a case of health-draining poison, and pull on my bladeturn hood.

The fight begins anew; with much the same opening results. Again with the staff of pissing me the hell off +5. Once he runs out of paralyze charges, the companions get serious. Four of them back him into a corner in the stairwell and proceed to beat, cut, and zap the holy living shit out of him for five straight minutes. I add my magic bow and poison to the deluge.

He. Never. Dies. EVER. Five solid minutes of pinned-in, pure abuse; and his health will never drop below 10%. Still, he slings infinite shock spells - at the end, it was to the point that we were killing his constant summons as an aside; not even breaking stride.

Eventually, I get sick of the shit. He can't beat us, can't escape, can't even knock any of my companions unconscious anymore. He just won't die for some reason. I use a kill command in the console. That took the wind out of his sails. Cheat at me, bitch, and I cheat right back.

I save; close the game, and pop open the Construction Set. This I have to see. Why would six sets of immunity-bypassing weapons backed up by spells not kill him? Why did he keep auto-healing?

In the CS, I found the why. LORDEVILGUYZOMGI'MBADUKNO is a cheat boss. Of the LOLUCANTKILLMYGUY variety.

Now, the first thing I notice is 666 base health and magicka. Fuck me; this tired gag again?

Okay, LORDEVILGUY! is bad, we get it. The 666 health and magicka are actually the base values, if you look. This means they're further adjusted by the endurance and intelligence scores. You can see in that shot, that his adjusted magicka is over eight hundred. Really, if you're going this far over the top; you may as well run it up past 9000 and make the Dragonball joke. It wouldn't be any more lame.

Looking over other areas, we also see that "The Master" is non-scaling, level fifty.

Really? Why wasn't there a mention of this being a high level quest in the documentation? I skim the comments section, and see that the author says he does mention it. I read the readme closer. There it is. A mention that it's for high level characters, and that his level thirty-five character with cheat equipment had trouble killing the boss. Where is the information? Near the end, between the changelog and credits. Who the hell puts a warning about character levels between the changelog and the credits? No sane person puts important information at the bottom; nestled snugly between the two least-often read subjects in readme history.

Back to LORDEVILGUY, though.

You can see here LORDEVILGUY!'s spam spell, good for 110pts per hit.

Here's the total spell list. Charm spell... for some reason... spam lightning, spam summon; full vampirism; and a set of custom abilities specifically for THEMASTER!

Oh, yeah. Double-speed, constant fire shield, resistance to magic; and health and magicka that regenerate eleven and seven points every frame. Totally not cheating at all.

I take a look at LORDEVILGUY!'s equipment.

Oh, look; his robe gives five more points of health regen every frame. That brings him up to sixteen. No wonder he wouldn't die...

Then of course there's the ring...

The other ring...

The amulet...

And his staff-of-pisses-Nos-the-hell-off-+5.

Seriously. This? This is one of the greatest examples I have ever seen of how not to set up a boss. There is challenging, and then there's LOLITROLLU! Guess which this is. This is a case of the author wanking over how great his characters are, and nothing more.

When I first got a mod by the name of Enchantment Mastery - which lets you enchant one item multiple times - I made a sword that had three or four grand-level damage enchantments on it at once; totaling like sixty points, on top of the normal damage. If you had a weapon like that, I think you could take the guy out; especially if combined with an engine exploit of using 100% chameleon on armor to get sneak bonuses on every attack. But... base game items, and normal play tactics? No way in hell.

So, ZOMGTEHEBIL! killed, I return to the head-pointed-eared-slut. Seems that by killing LORDEVILGUY! I am the new head of the clan. Seems LORDEVILGUY! became leader by killing previous leader, as well. Really, they need to get a new selection process. May I suggest pulling names from a hat? Roshambo tourney? Hey, I know! Sex contest. Anyone who can outlast the entire clan gets to be in charge. Problem solved. Or just hang up a sign that says "No Vampires, no necromancers" out front.

Amongst lots and lots of talkie-talkie and exposition, there is the information that I may now take any of the clan members I like as companions; they have merchants and trainers; and there's some talk about teaching me the live-forever-sex-magic stuff.

I want to note here, that while the quest itself is Godawfully cliche and boring; the dialogue is quite well written. I noticed no spelling errors, no missing punctuation; and the back story is very well fleshed out - the author even came up with a justification for stealing the term "Tantric" for the sex magic.

There's also a book in the castle library that even goes so far as to explain the theories behind it, and notes specific positions and techniques. If I hadn't flipped through a kama sutra years ago, I might have thought it was an original work.

From the build-up in the documentation, comments, and in-game text, I was expecting the elves around the castle to be really cool.

I was mistaken.

The talk about adult content refers only to dialogue; and that you can ask the elves to strip. There are no animations included, and no actual sex options that I could find in either the game, or by looking through the dialogue in the CS.

As companions, the elves suck. You cannot access their inventory; so they can't get better equipment, can't get repairs, can't get a staff recharged, and so on. They just follow you. If you want, they can ride a horse - but being as I don't use horses in Oblivion, this option was pretty pointless to me.

As for their around-the-castle lives; again, I didn't see the sort of things that people went on about. The elves bathe in the basement at night, and hang out in the ballroom/bar getting plastered and dancing. They strip naked when they go to bed. No naughtiness anywhere that I saw. I never found any options to do any "learning" of the magic, and though head-slut alluded to the player being able to take her as a permanent, live-in lover, I never saw the option come up.

There are references to the elves "learning" new skills as they travel with you; so perhaps this is something that only comes up after a certain amount of time.

As well, I bummed around the castle for two game days; and no matter what time of the day or night I caught the elves, no one was ever willing to sell anything or train me. Even when the blacksmith was behind his counter, he wouldn't open a merchant screen.

Now, I've talked a lot thus far about bad things in this mod, and there are a lot.

I want to mention the good thing, and what makes it worth putting up with the asinine quest and useless elves.

The castle itself, is GORGEOUS.

It is huge. There are tons of alchemical components to pick, dozens of storage containers, respawning food stocks, a small private bath for you; as well as the larger pool-type tub that the clan uses. There is a ballroom and bar, a library, stables. All the elves have their own bedrooms. The head elf has an office. There's a throne for you to sit on.

The curtain wall has a path that leads clear around the castle.

And of course... there's the view from the terrace outside the player's bedroom:

As it a player home, it is outstanding; and has all the storage, display, and bumming-around amenities you could ever want. The alchemy lab is well stocked; there are spell-making and enchanting altars; and you can open and close the portcullis at will. The elves do have a daily schedule, and even if it isn't as perverse as their being a sex cult would suggest... it does lend a sense of life to the place. Guards guard; one patrols the road near the castle on horseback; the head-elf works in her office; the smith works at his forge; the librarian tends the books; the alchemist experiments.

The castle is well removed from the cities, and in a location that lore-obsessed players should find little fault with.

It is a bit of a cheat, in spots. The altars, for example. Beyond that, in the library you'll find a stock of varla and welkyd stones for free. The alchemy lab has a free set of master-grade apparatuses. The lab also has containers similar to the one for the head of the mages guild - that duplicates components. The smith has a stock of elven weapons that are free to take. Once the quest is completed, there is little to interfere with you simply hanging out, collecting the infinitely restocked items, and selling them for massive profits. The castle is self-supporting and requires no actual work or input of gold on your part.

Now, we've got the views. The storage. The feeling of being in an inhabited castle.

I'm still probably not going to keep it in my game. Why?

For all its beautiful design, careful placement in the world, and small army of potentially naked wemmenz roaming about; the castle has one major flaw.

It is not companion friendly.

First and foremost are the doors I mentioned before. The stairwells in the castle are transplants; inlaid sections of ruin:

Now, this would be okay - and indeed, I applaud the author for making such a solution work - except that in several places, they're too tight:

They're so tight near some of the doors, that the pathgrid doesn't function correctly; and companions won't follow you through the doors unless you position them perfectly beforehand. Even if you do, if you have four or more in tow; at least one will always get left, or stuck.

In addition, the teleport-markers on the doors are too close. Since followers spawn into the new room behind you, this setup tends to deposit them behind the door; where they can't get to you. The only way to even tell they're there half the time is to use a console command to switch to wireframe view. Because they're behind the door/wall, a TCL command won't help; since you can't click on them through the wall. The only fix is to either go back and forth through the door until you roll correctly and they don't get stuck, or to TCL yourself through the wall; toggle their clipping, and then come back out. It is a massive pain.

On top of that, for all the space; there's virtually none for followers of your own. There are two "guest" bedrooms, and the bed in the master bedroom will sleep two. If you want somewhere to sleep, that's three you can leave there, max. There are also precious few idle markers in the castle. CMs that I left there ended up doing nothing but wandering, and weapon training.

On the whole, if you're a player who likes "epic" quests to defeat "evil"; downloads every overpowered god weapon you can find on the Nexus; and don't keep companions, you'll love this mod.

For players like me, though... it was a colossal waste of my time and energy. Three stars out of five. It obviously had a lot of work put into it, but the story is just too cliched; the characters thin and not compelling, and the "adult" options aren't - if I have to use outside mods like Lovers to get the stuff in there, then why go to the trouble of getting the castle, instead of just filling up another place with companions? The followers aren't upgradable at all, the merchants don't appear to work, and it's not even suitable as a CM base of operations. I'm willing to give an extra point to the mod just because of the author's attention to spelling and punctuation. That's fairly rare these days. Without that, it'd be a two. Lastly, either give us the option for quest markers, or take the time to note at least the bullet points of where we need to go in the quest journal - not everyone gets to play a mod straight-though, and I hate when games make me take paper notes.


  1. "On the whole, if you're a player who likes "epic" quests to defeat "evil"; downloads every overpowered god weapon you can find on the Nexus; and don't keep companions, you'll love this mod."

    Two out of three of those counts me out on this one as well I'm afraid.

    IMHO there aren't many gaming experiences that are more lame than sitting at a table with a DM who, because in RL he's a total loser, feels the need to prove how he can utterly destroy our party on paper. It sounds as though this quest might very well fit into that category.

    Nos, thank you for the detailed review. I hope the author of the mod gets to read it and takes at least some of it to heart. It sounds like he has the potential to do some great things once he grows out of the "look at what I can do" phase.

  2. I'm kind of on the fence. I'm not ashamed of the review; not going to hide it or say NO ONE LINK THE AUTHOR HERE! or some such... but personally, I'd be slightly miffed if I read something like that of my work.

    Granted, I can quest and story and whatnot; but I don't. Have never uploaded one, never proven that I can do so half-assedly decent on my own.

    Still, at the same time I am my own hardest critic, and if I wrote something like Tantrivaylia, I would have long since kicked my own ass.

    It had so much potential. I wanted to like the mod... but you get enough annoying details added together and it just isn't worth it. Which of course means I'm still in the market for a good house mod. Probably going to end up having to do it my damned self; like I do my companions.

  3. I've been thinking about it some more, and I think I figured out why LORDEVILGUY! bugs me so much.

    I guess it's been two, maybe two and a half years ago now, a mod hit the TESNexus.

    It was composed of three of the author's former player characters. They had been loaded up with cheat equipment, and were all but invincible; and once the plugin was activated, these three would be spawned in the game world and attack the player every time he went to sleep.

    No story, no point; no loot, no houses. Just the author showing what a badass his characters were.

    He couldn't figure out why people weren't falling in supplication to this awesome mod he had uploaded.

    LORDEVILGUY! reeks of the same nonsense to me.

  4. Wuss. :-) Or maybe you play on hardcore difficulty, and I should shut my mouth. It was a really tough fight, but not impossible. On normal difficulty, my level 28 efficiently leveled (+5/+5/+1 luck) mage beat him with a lot of conjured creatures and potions. AND I have OOO, which disables invisibility around vampires, so I couldn't hide and heal.

    Here's what I did: I went into the ballroom and conjured two Dremora (the Supreme Magicka mod allows you to summon additional creatures) and stacked Chameleon spells for 100% Chameleon. Bad Guy did his I'mSoEvil speech; I hit him with a Command Humanoid spell (up to level 39, 18 second duration), went into sneak mode, and pickpocketed his unequipped gear (I also reverse-pickpocketed some cursed items onto him. It didn't work). Then I hit him with a 100 second Silence spell, and drank a 90 point/350 second homemade Fortify Health potion. When the Command spell wore off, he did his speech AGAIN, and attacked. He attacked me, the player, rather than my conjured creatures so I dodged his staff attacks while my dremora waled on him. When the staff ran out of charges he attacked with hand-to-hand (I having pickpocketed his dagger earlier). After that, it was rinse and repeat recasting Silence, occasionally hitting him with a ranged Weakness to Magicka or with my Greater Staff of Lightning (80 pts Shock damage on target). I only had to recharge the staff once.

    The thing that really hurt the mod, for me, was the Candleshire Kids Club reaction to being abducted and sexually assaulted. "Oh, TehEv1l0n3 is dead, and the other elves are so pretty and nice it's okay they molested us!" Seriously?! I mean, I didn't expect A Quest To Find A Psychological Therapist And Establish A Survivors' Support Group, but that's a bit glib.

  5. "Wuss. :-) Or maybe you play on hardcore difficulty, and I should shut my mouth. It was a really tough fight, but not impossible. On normal difficulty, my level 28 efficiently leveled (+5/+5/+1 luck) mage beat him with a lot of conjured creatures and potions. AND I have OOO, which disables invisibility around vampires, so I couldn't hide and heal. "

    Remember the bit about how the high-level warning was hidden in the no-man's land section of the readme?

    I went in at level 16; and don't use cheat equipment, potions, or spells.

    But yes, the "all is forgiven!" thing was a bit much, as well. I was just overwhelmed at the time I wrote that with other parts of the mod that pissed me off.