The Fauna of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
Guest Written by Rev Storm!
This review has been a long time coming.
Released in 2003, Morrowind (named for the island continent the game is set on) was the game of my teens. It provided a kind of world that I had never experienced before--and never have since, honestly.
An alien world that was simultaneously beautiful and terrifying. A place that felt both hostile and welcoming. A place I could return to at any time--and have, many times.
So, let's get into some of that beautiful, welcoming terror, with a review of some of the monsters most signature to this weird, wonderful setting.
Let's dive right in with the first animal you ever see in the game: the silt strider. As soon as you're released from prison (where you've been incarcerated for reasons left deliberately vague), you're stricken by an eerie wail. Follow it, and you're faced with one of these things looming over you.
And told that it's the primary form of transport within Morrowind.
And that you will be expected to take one immediately.
And that you'll be sitting in the hole excavated out of its back, where the driver will operate the animal by directly manipulating its exposed organs.
Welcome to Morrowind.
Webrunner CC BY-SA 3.0
The "silt strider" obviously takes inspiration from real life water striders in both design and name--carnivorous insects that skate across the water's surface on their stiltlike legs, waiting to pounce on any hapless insects that fall in. It even shares the water strider's mantis-like raptorial forelimbs! It seems too large to skate across the water's surface, but other animals the same size are seen floating weightlessly in Morrowind, so that means nothing.
It's hard to image it doing anything but gliding across the water, its long legs trailing ghostlike behind it.
All that said, its shell and shape put me more in the mind of an immature cicada.
fir0002 flagstaffotos [at] gmail.com GFDL 1.2
Cliff RacerLuckily, Morrowind is a game with a lot of freedom, and you're free to fuck right off and just hoof it to wherever you want to go next! Unfortunately, you're surrounded by miles of fetid swamp. Even if you take the main roads and avoid the many contagious diseases they have to offer, that still means contending with some creatures a lot less chill than the eviscerated silt strider.
Like the cliff racer.
These warped, pterosaur-like creatures are most commonly encountered in the mountains, but will assail you out of nowhere from a clear blue sky. They became reviled among players to the point of becoming a meme, and eventually the Elder Scrolls series canonly declared the hated cliffracer extinct.
With the exception of bivalves and octopus centaurs, the slaughterfish is the only fully aquatic animal you'll find in Morrowind. As you would expect, it is a fish that loves its slaughtering, and basically the cliff racer of the water.
Though not a particularly interesting design by Morrowind standards, I'm still a fan of this nasty, snaggle-toothed fish. The younger version even has the larger fins and skinny, wormlike body of many actual fish larvae!
Interestingly, the scales are edible.
A little underwhelming after the first two, the mudcrab is still a pretty bizarre animal.
As you may know, "crab" is a general term for a wide variety of unrelated crustaceans, the shape continually evolving in a trend known as "carcinization." However, even by this generous definition, the Elder Scrolls III version of the mudcrab does not seem to be any kind of crab at all. Those are not claws, but appear to be a pair of very enlarged mandibles.
With its large, domed shell, however, there is a definite evocation of a hermit crab. Though, unlike the hermit crab, the mudcrab's shell appears to be its own.
Amusingly, later in the game you come across the "Mudcrab Merchant," who is sure enough a merchant that is also a mudcrab (and one of the few merchants that can pay the exorbitant prices your lategame loot demands). It's ambiguous whether the merchant is actually a talking mudcrab, or a beleaguered, rich hermit hiding in a mudcrab shell.
I know which version I prefer.
It's uncertain whether they're actually related, but at one point Morrowind was home to at least two different crabs. The emperor crab is long extinct, but many houses in Morrowind still exist made of the huge creatures' empty exoskeletons.
Most notable of them was Skar, a particularly large specimen that was made into the Manor District of the city of Ald'ruhn, "Ald'ruhn-under-Skar." It's spacious enough to house a council hall and the mansions of many nobles. Definitely one of the cooler places in the game, and that's saying something.
KwamaKept as livestock by the native Dunmer of Morrowind, the kwama are eusocial animals with great variety in their castes, so this one will be split up! First off, there's the
I hadn't realized this until I checked the wiki, but apparently the scrib is a larval kwama! So, we'll start there.
Fortunately, not every animal in Morrowind is hellbent on killing you. Behold the humble scrib! The scrib has no interest in shedding your blood, just skittering around the swamps and ashlands looking for scraps. (Though if provoked, it does have a nasty habit of spewing acid.)
An innately loveable design, with its big head and clumsy movements. Featurewise, it evokes a cross between a lizard and a house centipede. A nicely bizarre touch: What appear first to be deepset eyes are actually several small spikes set in sockets!
Coming across one of these guys was always a delight, and a sign my character could finally take a nap.
Alas, the scrib's pacific tendencies don't last, and this next stage in the life cycle will attack you on sight.
Strangely, with its maggot-like form, the forager is actually more larval than its scrib instar. What seems to be a single large eye is actually the mouth! The three actual eyes rim it like eyelashes.
It's strange that the youngest stages of the kwama take the foraging role. This is exactly the inverse of actual eusocial insect roles, where the young and inexperienced are kept closer to the nursery the younger they are, and the oldest do the most foraging. After all, the oldest individuals have had the most time to accumulate diseases, and so are best kept farthest from the others!
It's unclear whether the worker is the life stage after the forager, or another caste entirely. As its name suggests, the workers will be busily excavating and tending the eggs when you find them. A return to the pacifism of the scrib, it is not hostile unless it (or one of its family members) is attacked. Despite being much larger and more formidable than the previous two, the worker is found only in the depths of the nest. (The nest itself is not much to write home about, basically indistinguishable from any mines you'll find in the game.)
A very interesting design, and the most abstract yet. Strangely, though the scrib has six legs, and the forager has none, the worker has four. Stranger yet...on a squat, sturdy body otherwise evoking a boar, the face abruptly ends at the antennae and what may be two beady eyes.
There is an abrupt scoop taken out of the head, with a yawning hole for a mouth, similar to the forager's.
I really appreciate the oddness of this design on close inspection. In game, in the dark depths of the nest, I always got more of a Triceratops impression from these shambling creatures.
The warrior appears to be a kwama forager shoved tail-first down the mouth of of a worker that is standing on its hind legs, giving the impression that the forager is piloting its sibling like a mech. (And you'll be pleased to know there's some coming out the back end, too.)
Which...raises a LOT of questions.
Not a lot to say about this one otherwise. Like the worker, it is found only in the nest. Unlike the worker, it is aggressive toward any outsiders (though not the Dunmer miners that tend it).
Raising further questions about just how this animal's life cycle proceeds, the queen appears to be a very large warrior, with the back forager part swollen with eggs. Quadrupedal again, the queen is otherwise the immobile egg-layer typical of sci-fi eusocial insectoids.
Well, it's a four-legged animal that can definitely maul you, but that's about where any resemblance to a "hound" ends. Like the above, the nix-hound is some kind of large arthropod, even sharing some phylogeny with the silt strider and the kwama worker. Also like the silt strider, the nix-hound calls to mind a true bug, with its long, sharp sucking mouth and cicada-like eyes--though, more like a crab, the eyes are extruded.
The fear of one of these things stalking me on the side of the road at night really helped make the early game for me.
The guar has the delightful feeling of a T. rex evolved down into a squat, friendly little pack animal. I love these guys.
However, its relative, the alit, has done away with both friendliness and arms and will mercilessly tear you a new one if it meets you.
Another relative, the kagouti, shares the alit's hatred of friends and arms. Interestingly, it seems to have evolved some Triceratops-like features.
NetchThis delightful giant, floating cnidarian exhibits some extreme sexual dimorphism.
The females, or betty netches, resemble huge jellyfish. They're poisonous and highly aggressive.
The larger males, or bull netches, are conversely very passive, and not poisonous at all.
Volkan Yuksel CC BY-SA 3.0Their design looks fascinatingly like a real life Portuguese man o' war--a relative of the jellyfish that is actually a colony composed of several individuals! No word on whether bull netches are also colonies.
Like the kwama, these are also kept as livestock by the Dunmer, who are apparently completely unflappable.
CenturionsGetting out of animals now, let's talk about the centurions (or, according to the wiki, animunculi). Apparently mechanical constructs made by the now-extinct dwarves, or Dwemer, the centurions guard the many Dwemer ruins you'll find scattered across the continent.
The centurion spiders are my favorite of the centurions. A basic little spiderlike machine, with a grille on top emitting steam and recalling spider eyes. What's not to love?
Funny thing: Even though the spider seems to be made of metal, the top expands and contracts a lot like flesh.
My second-favorite are the centurion spheres. Most of the time, they are indeed spheres, just rolling around on patrol. If an intruder sets them off, out springs a humanoid upper half to form a mechanical sphere centaur. Not a totally unique humanoid half, but nicely reminiscent of the kind of fantasy-flavored robot designed when Star Wars and Moebius were at their peak.
Somehow, they kind of make me think of Crow from Mystery Science Theater 3000.
The last known Dwemer alive, left behind when all other members of his race mysteriously vanished in a single instant.
Infected by a disease known as Corprus, Yagrum was not able to cure the disease, but found a treatment that rendered him immortal. At the same time, he was not entirely immune to the effects, his lower half having apparently rotted away and been replaced with a centurion-like prosthesis.
Speaking of Corprus, here's a look at what the disease normally does to you. Not all that unique, the corprus stalker is basically just an underwhelming zombie (though not ranking among the actual undead of the game).
A little more interesting is when the disease advances, yielding a "lame corprus." Here we can see the rot and the bloat really taking effect, causing such severe swelling that the skin begins to split.
You'll find victims of the illness staggering around the fenced-in area surrounding the Red Mountain, a volcano at the center of the continent--because, horrifyingly enough, the disease is spread through the perennially quasi-active volcano's ashes.
Funnily enough, though by far most people in Morrowind are Dunmer, the victims of the Corprus that we see all seem to be...Bosmer?? Maybe I'm reading too much into it.
Ash CreaturesNow, let's look at some of the members of the ash creature family. Despite the names, none of the ash creatures are truly undead, either. As you would expect, they are innately tied up in the horrors of Red Mountain, and play a heavy role in the plot that I'll try not to spoil too heavily here (save for one major spoiler at the end).
Some of the ash creatures are pretty dull, but I'm a big fan of the ash zombie. Basically a normal Dunmer (dark elf), except for the part of the face that's conspicuously missing. (And indeed, this was a Dunmer at one point.) A minor, but very disturbing detail.
More disturbing yet, if you can calm one down, you'll get dialogue like "WHERE ARE YOU, LORD? We cannot hear you.... SPEAK to us! PLEASE!" and "What are you? Where is this place? I'm so tired, LET ME SLEEP!"
Very fun at parties.
According to this concept art by Kirkbride, the cavity was blasted out from "enlightenment"! I'm not sure if that's better or worse than what I would have assumed.
Presumably the next step after Ash Zombies, the Ash Ghoul has gained some kind of proboscis that everts from the cavity carved into its skull. Having apparently grown accustomed to the big hole in their face now that there's something wiggly in it, the Ash Ghoul offers much more prosaic dialogue about acquiescing to their leader. A little less fun at parties, to be honest.
Keep at it, and apparently members of the ash family have even more wiggly parts to look forward to! Though prosaic as the Ghoul, the Ascended Sleeper now views you with disinterested disdain. "A bug. A weed. A piece of dust. Busy, busy, busy."
When killed, only a skull remains, apparently all that's left of their bone structure.
Well, apparently killed. As the Sleeper itself will tell you: "You think what you do has meaning? You think you slay me, and I am dead? It is just dream and waking over and over, one appearance after another, nothing real. What you do here means nothing. Why do we waste our breath on you?"
NOTE: AFTER THIS POINT
ARE SOME MAJOR SPOILERS.
Leader of the ash creatures, and primary antagonist of the game. His is not the most disturbing of what we've seen, but there is an uncanniness to it--the emaciated body, with the too-long fingers, and the serene sun mask on top of it. When I descended to the depths of his lair to fight him, Dagoth Ur's subtly eerie design did not disappoint.
One of three gods collectively known as the Tribunal. Where Almalexia and Vivec are only slightly distorted elves, however, Sotha Sil has gone full fantasy cyborg.
Or, at least, had--by the time you find him, Sotha Sil has been murdered, his clothes stripped away, hair torn out and limbs dismembered.
You never see Sotha Sil alive in any Elder Scrolls III content, so for the longest time I assumed this was also what he looked like alive. Kind of disappointed to find out otherwise, to be honest.
And last but not least...Akulakhan.
When you find it, Akulakhan is basically just a huge, unfinished statue. Hooked into its spine, resting atop its pelvis, is the beating heart of the dead god Lorkhan. Dagoth Ur is apparently planning to construct his own god this way.
Would it have been feasible? Who knows. All I know is that the concept absolutely enthralled me, and the imagery of this towering attempt to build a god stayed with me. I will never forget the feeling of hacking away at that giant, beating heart, all the while wondering what could have been.
This article was guest written by Rev Storm, and if you generally like sci-fi fantasy settings with giant insects in them, you can also try their original animated series Humans-B-Gone!
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