Moon and Star (Design)


Over 350,000 unique downloads on
Steam, Skyrim Nexus and Bethesda.net

Named one of the best Skyrim mods by PC Gamer.

“Moon and Star is a lore-friendly addition to any Skyrim fanatic’s game.” – GamesRadar

“All in all, the quest will take you a few hours to complete, is nicely put together, and well worth your time to play through it.” – Brodual

Rated at #9 on Brodual’s list of the Top 10 Quest Mods of all time.

“This is a quality, quality quest mod on par if not better than vanilla content.” – MMOxReview

GameSpot’s Mod of the Week 2/28/2015

Winner of the Guildhall at SMU’s Level Design Honors Award, given to only one level designer in each graduating class.

 

Development Info

Features

Game: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim / Skyrim: Special Edition
Genre: Open world role-playing game
Platform: PC, Xbox One
Players: 1
Team Size: 1
Development Time: 8 Weeks
  • A main quest with multiple starting and ending points that can be completed with skipped steps and even if every NPC associated with the quest has been killed
  • A new town with 4 side quests, 7 NPC inhabitants, a merchant and a trainer
  • A total of 9 fully voiced NPCs
  • New weapons and items, some of which feature custom meshes (used with permission)
  • Consequences for the player’s actions

General Design

“Moon and Star” is a single player mod for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim that adds new content in the form of a main quest, a town, a dungeon, and four side quests. The player is sent on the trail of a supposedly dangerous criminal, who turns out to be a legendary figure in the The Elder Scrolls universe – the Nerevarine. They track him to a village of Dark Elf refugees, and then to a Dwarven ruin. Once they meet him and learn his true identity, they can choose to help him destroy a powerful Dwarven weapon, or kill him outright. The choices they make on the quest have consequences that the player must face, however, sometimes when they least expect it. If they kill the Nerevarine, the next time they go to sleep, he will come to them in a dream and place a powerful curse on them. If they aid him, they will be attacked by assassins the next time they enter any of the player homes in the game.

Overview Map

MASOverviewA map of all the places players visit as part of “Moon and Star.” It should be noted that the Shrine of Azura is not essential, and only comes into play should the Nerevarine survive the quest. The following maps will cover the new or heavily modified areas used for this mod. They will not include areas that have only received slight modifications. Those areas are:

  • Riverwood: One NPC was added to the Sleeping Giant Inn and a chest related to a side quest was added to the town exterior.
  • The Shrine of Azura: An NPC and some clutter was added, depending on the player’s actions during the quest.
  • Player homes in Whiterun, Riften, Solitude, Windhelm and Markarth: Spawn points and scripts were added for assassins, depending on the player’s actions during the quest.

Little Vivec

MASLittleVivecVillagers:

  • Bal-Ran – Archery trainer and gives a quest related to the main quest. Usually found by his hut.
  • Selyse Andrathil – Merchant and side quest giver. Usually found in her tradehouse.
  • Albert – Side quest giver. Usually found playing near Selyse’s Tradehouse.
  • Belvadyr Rathvasi – Side quest giver. Usually found near Rathvasi “Canton.”
  • Toren Darrosa – Side quest giver. Usually found near the Darrosa House.
  • Taren Darrosa – Flavor NPC. Usually found near the Darrosa House.
  • Velyna Rathvasi – Flavor NPC Usually found near Rathvasi “Canton.”
  • Meat – Dog. Usually found near Selyse’s Tradehouse.

Moss Creek Camp

MASMossCreekCamp

Kagrenar Exterior

MASKagrenarExteriorThe lock in the bottom right of the map can only be undone from the inside, meaning the player must reach the Kagrenar Depths before unlocking it. This provides a shortcut out of the dungeon while preventing the player from skipping it. It also ensures the that the player will be there to face Mandyn Hlaalu – the initial quest giver from Riverwood – after they complete the dungeon. Depending on what they chose to do with the Nerevarine, they will be rewarded or have to fight Mandyn.

Kagrenar

MASKagrenarThough Kagrenar only has one primary path, there are multiple ways to complete it. At Riddles A, B, and C, there is a chest with a book resting beside it on a pedestal. Each book contains a riddle, and the answer to each riddle is an item within the corresponding room. The player must find the correct item and place it in the chest to unlock the door blocking the path ahead. If they answer incorrectly, they will be attacked by an ambush of Dwarven Spiders, Spheres and Centurions respectively. If they defeat the ambush, the door will unlock that way as well. However, the final locked door that hides the Tomb Key can only be unlocked if the player has answered all three riddles correctly.

Kagrenar Depths

MASKagrenarDepths

After meeting the Nerevarine, the player must choose to fight or help him as a locked door blocks the way and requires a key. The Nerevarine will unlock it if the player helps him or the player can loot it from his corpse (it cannot be pickpocketed). If the player kills the Nerevarine, they can skip the boss using a key he drops. If they help the Nerevarine, they must defeat the boss and loot a key from its corpse that unlocks the elevator to Skyrim.

The boss itself cannot be directly damaged at first, and is instead given life by three nearby power cores. The power cores are shielded, however, and each must have their shields lowered by a corresponding lever, labeled as A, B and C on the map. Only one shield can be lowered at a time, and using the lever labeled D resets the shields. Without its shield, the power core can be damaged and destroyed. When all three power cores are destroyed, the boss becomes vulnerable to attack, and can be finished off by conventional means.

If the player has the tomb key from earlier, they can unlock the tomb and explore it for some extra loot and a secret quest item.

Major Design Goals

Player Agency

In an open world game like Skyrim, it’s important that the player feels like their actions are making an impact and that they have an active role in the story. Therefore, the main quest in “Moon and Star” was designed with player agency in mind. In addition to the major choice of whether to kill the Nerevarine or help him, players have various smaller choices that affect how the quest plays out. For example, the mod starts with a courier providing the player with a letter to go talk to a man named Mandyn Hlaalu in Riverwood. The player can ignore the letter completely and wander into Little Vivec or Kagrenar entirely on their own, they can go to Riverwood and accept the quest from Mandyn, or they can obtain a Writ of Execution by pickpocketing or killing Mandyn that reveals his identity as a Morag Tong assassin. They can even show him the note after they pickpocket it and confront him about it.QuestScriptsIt took some work to test for all the different bugs and account for the many ways that players could go through the quest. The above screenshot shows all the potential stages for the main quest that I used to track player’s decisions, for example, and one of the many if statements that I had to use to gate scripted events. It was entirely worth the effort, though, as it lead to a more engaging quest that the player was more invested in. Whenever possible, I’ve found it is always best to present the player with more choice. If a player makes a choice that clearly has an effect on the story, they have something at stake. Just as an athlete will be more invested in the outcome of a game than a fan watching from the sidelines, so will players be more invested in a story if they are able to impact it significantly and consistently.

Seamless Integration Into Skyrim

MASintegrationMany Skyrim mods take place in their own world spaces, totally isolated from Skyrim proper. However, this can make the mod feel small and alien compared to quests that take place within Skyrim itself. So, one of my major goals with “Moon and Star” was to create a mod that was intertwined with Skyrim, not separate from it. That meant integrating Little Vivec, Moss Creek Camp and Kagrenar’s exterior into the Tamriel over world, giving NPCs quality voice acting, making sure that my quests and dialog were lore friendly, and adding all the little details that tie Skyrim together such as map markers, proper quest organization and crime tracking. It involved a lot of behind the scenes work that many players might take for granted, but ultimately kept the mod from breaking players’ immersion and gave it an extra coat of polish.

A Living, Breathing Village

aipackagesOne of the strengths of The Elder Scrolls series is its ability to create worlds that feel like they can exist and thrive without the player. The player feels like they are an actual inhabitant of the world they are playing in, rather than an actor moving through a set. The village of Little Vivec in “Moon and Star” was created to support this notion. Within the village, characters go about their daily routines eating, sleeping and working like actual people would, homes are cluttered with items that give insight into their purpose and the personality of their owners, and characters have dialog and quests that directly relate to other villagers. All this helps turn Little Vivec into a location that is organic and memorable, not just a pit stop on the way to the player’s next big pile of loot.

A Lean, Unique Dungeon

For the dungeon in “Moon and Star”, I focused on creating an efficiently sized but high quality dungeon that still offered players a sense of choice and provided a fresh experience to Skyrim‘s seasoned dungeon crawlers. Crucial to this was the introduction of a new type of puzzle to Skyrim in the form of the “What am I?” riddles outlined in the Kagrenar section above. These riddles offered micro-exploration to the player by having them search for the answer to the riddle in the three puzzle rooms, automatically offered a different path to players who dislike puzzles by giving them combat when they got the wrong answer, and provided more exploration and lore to more cerebral players who got all the answers right. So, even though Kagrenar is physically linear, the experience of Kagrenar is not.

MoonAndStar7
The other big centerpiece of Kagrenar is its boss fight. Typical Skyrim battles are a matter of damage output, statistical superiority and reflexes. Such tactics will not work against the boss of Kagrenar – the Dwarven Centurion Titan. The Titan offers a unique challenge in that it is invulnerable to direct attack, but has weak points in the form of three power cores that reside in the boss chamber, as seen in the Kagrenar Depths section above. Therefore, the real challenge with the boss is outmaneuvering it entirely while figuring out how to expose and destroy its weak points. This helps make the Titan feel like an actual boss and not just a statistically powerful enemy. When combined with the flashy explosions and effects that accompany the fight, the Titan’s massive size and the optional presence of the Nerevarine, it makes for an epic encounter.