Heya everybody. I normally don’t chime in on these forums, but I wanted to rant a bit about Rellenthil’s House of Reveries quest and figured that I’d go for it. :-P
Specifically, I think this quest needed more time in the proverbial hopper. It’s very well-intentioned and kind, but it also suffers from very awkwardly tortured logic and a poorly handled last-minute twist that made me feel like I was holding ye olde idiot orb.
For those that haven’t done this quest yet but love spoilers, the quest starts off with the player talking to a mage named Rinny who is looking for her brother. He’s run off to join Summerset’s equivalent of the circus, and just when their dream has come true of being accepted into the Sapiarch College! *gasp* She needs your help to find him and convince him to come on back home, but there’s a catch; the performers of the House of Reveries Theatre Troupe all agree to completely renounce their past lives and names, going so far as to adopt pseudonyms based on their innate artistic proclivities and donning creepy porcelain masks. Between the restrictions on outsiders meandering about the commune, the anonymity afforded by the masks and pseudonyms, and the sponsor Alchemy protecting all the new Hopefuls’ identities from magical scrying via counter-spells, Rinny is out of luck. You’re going to have to go undercover, with a pair of magically enchanted juggling knives no less, to smoke out her bro before it’s too late.
So far, so good. This is a nice set-up. The audition that gets you in is kind of silly, the npc audition banter is amusing, and Alchemy does a good job as your sponsor providing exposition and lore while not being too overt about it all.
Once you’re a Hopeful yourself, you check back in with Rinny and she sends you out to find her brother. He’s a high elf, looks just like her because they’re twins, has a scar over his left breast from a gryphon wound, and disappeared about two to three months ago to join the troupe so he’ll be kind of new to all of this. A journal she provides indicates that he had been growing more and more distant over the past year, setting up his own private studying area where he could ply his magic trade in Thaumaturgy alone. It also indicated that he knew his behavior with the troupe was upsetting her, such as when he came home after a late night of partying with the performers reeking of alcohol and perfume with lip stick smeared all over his face. She was mortified by such carnal excess when their studies were so close to fruition, and he vowed to rein in his behavior. Then he went poof.
Armed with this information, you go to the Hopeful living quarters to interview the new recruits… and then the quest quality just falls apart at the seams as the proverbial idiot orb is heaved onto your shoulders. The first Hopeful is a ridiculous, utterly candid fire-eater who says that he has never had a sister. Considering his friendliness and at-ease nature with you, you have no reason to doubt him whatsoever. The next Hopeful is a drunk woman named Clever with a penchant for flirtation and sword swallowing (literally. Mind out of the gutter, please!). Considering this game’s extreme gender dimorphism (male high elves are a foot and a half taller than female high elves, have shoulders almost twice as broad, and very narrow hips), there’s no way that this is the brother. Yet, the game INSISTS that your character thinks this could be the brother, because I guess the player character is an oblivious idiot.
In case this assessment of the player’s mental acumen wasn’t clear enough, the next Hopeful is a male high elf with the same skin color as Rinny and a scar over his left breast. He used to tell people that he was practicing magic in a private study, but he was really practicing his dance moves in a cave. Finally feeling too guilty to continue the lie, he caved (no pun intended) and gave up his life as a mage, opting instead to run away and join the House of Reveries. Smiling, he proclaims that he has learned an incredible amount in the past couple months here and can’t wait to learn more. When pressed about whether or not he has a sister, he doesn’t deny it but says it doesn’t matter. When you join the House of Reveries, you give up your old life completely and all ties to that which came before. He’s done with those days. That checks out with Alchemy’s exposition and the lore books scattered about that indicate the same. To be a troupe member, you have to give up all you were before.
A rational, reasonable person at this point would assume that this quest thinks you’re a complete imbecile. It’s had you interview a woman to see if she was Rinny’s brother and now has overtly handed you the brother on a silver platter. Personally, I sneered. It’s bad enough when I’m told to investigate fields or houses for clues and arrows pop up over the clues immediately lest I notice them first myself (which I guess I’m presumed to be incapable of doing), but come on.
You go to tell Rinny that you’ve found her brother hiding in plain sight, but you’re greeted by Alchemy instead. She doesn’t appreciate your snooping, your fake juggling, or your lack of respect for the wishes of Rinny’s brother. Amused though, she offers to let Rinny talk to the brother if you can guess the right person. Who was it? Was it the fire-idiot? Was it Clever? Tilting her head, Alchemy advices you to keep in mind that performers here can choose what gender they are. Um, WHAT?!
SINCE WHEN WAS THIS A PLOT THREAD? EVER? No in-game text indicated that the House of Reveries had the power to not just present as a different gender, but to magically CHANGE THEIR GENDER BASED ON THEIR WHIM. No background information from either the performers or Alchemy’s prior exposition dump indicated this either. It’s just a completely blind-siding moment that, frankly, is poorly explained in of itself. Are they using illusion magic to mask their body type? Are they using mysticism to literally become the opposite gender like a Daedric Prince or Vivec? Is this just actor-speak for “hey, we’re in theatrical costumes with our faces covered in porcelain. If we want to say we’re Argonians, we do. If we want to say we’re a gender of our choice, we can. Actors, buddy. We can be anything we want to be here whenever we want to be.”
I took it for actor speak because the alternative was ridiculous magical powers neither hinted at prior nor demonstrated anywhere in Summerset and ruled out Clever since, again, gender dimorphism. I went with the silver platter, fits-every-descriptor, dancing dude. Alchemy reneges on her deal, because of course she would, and sends the player back to Rinny a failure.
In response to the player’s failure, Rinny develops a plan to magically unmask all Hopefuls and reveal her brother. You can either help her with the plan or warn Alchemy, who protects the recruits by arranging for you to be magically unmasked instead. I went with that option out of sympathy to Clever, who was so marvelously saucy, and Rinny was banished from the city. I figured I had done her dancing brother a big solid, and went to Alchemy for my reward. However, Alchemy had nothing for me. Instead, she wept and admitted that SHE WAS THE BROTHER ALL ALONG.
*sigh* Of all the unearned, clumsy, eye-rolling twists I’ve seen in gaming, this may be the worst. I’ve seen people try to defend it, but the defenses have just left me even more incredulous than before.
“Well Ingel, he came home after a late night of partying smelling like booze and perfume with lipstick smeared on him. Clearly that was the first sign that he was transgender.”
Um, not really. When my college mates came back from late night carousing downtown in the same condition, I logically assumed that they had made some questionable life decisions with strangers. I never leapt to the conclusion that they were presenting as a different gender at a late night Masque ball, because that would have been quite a leap indeed!
“Well Ingel, everyone gets pseudonyms based on their proclivity. Alchemy? Thaumaturgy? Hm… ;-)”
Um, no. Thaumaturgy is nature-based magic (with an emphasis on miracles, according to internet definitions), and with all the "four elements of nature" stuff in this game I had assumed it was the magic dancing dude with burned fingertips from fire magic all the more. The field of alchemy is tied to… the magical practice of alchemy that has its own skill tree and crafting benches in all Elder Scrolls games and cost me 28 or so skill points to max out in this one. That’s not much of a clue either.
“Well Ingel, Alchemy eventually professes openly that people can choose their own genders in the troupe.”
This actually makes it all the more lame a twist. Alchemy DID NOT WANT TO BE FOUND OUT. Gender swapping is clearly not a widely publicized practice outside of the troupe’s ranks. Why tell me about it when you’ve already deduced that I’m Rinny’s spy and that I’m actively trying to find you out? That’s… so counterproductive and self-defeating. It’s also rubbish timing, considering that you’re telling me this five minutes before the end of a 30 minute long quest. It felt unearned and shoehorned in at this point, perhaps in an effort to try and assuage player resentment at having to pretend that Clever was a viable brother candidate.
“Well Ingel, Alchemy has a strong magical aura all about her. Clearly it’s the gender illusion spell she’s using to hide that she’s the brother (oh, the pronoun / noun barbarism that I’m committing. I’m sorry, English).”
Except that this is Summerset, the land of magic that is peopled by a race of magically inclined elves. That Alchemy has a strong magical aura about her is not at all a clear sign of illusion magic. It’s more a clear sign that she’s a powerful magic-using member of the troupe that protects new recruits. In addition, there is no indication in any of the lore books that the House of Reveries uses illusion magic at all, let alone for such a purpose. You have no reason to suspect that the aura is a spell altering Alchemy's appearance and body shape.
As if the writing wasn’t already tortured by this point, Alchemy further claims that she has been a member of the troupe for over a year, hence her high rank. She only chose to be true to herself recently, hence the absconding three months prior. This also makes NO SENSE considering the previous conversations with House of Reveries members. According to all the texts and conversations, becoming a full member of the troupe requires you to give up your old life and name and dedicate yourself fully to the arts. Your old life is dead and all that.
How was Alchemy doing that and gaining a high House rank if she was also applying to the Sapiarch College with her sister and living the pre-House life she had prior? Was Alchemy breaking the rules secretly? Would she be reprimanded if the House of Reveries ever found out? No way to know, because this plot hole is just jumped over with more reckless abandon.
It’s just… so poorly written. I almost feel bad objecting to it all considering the positive ending afterward of Rinny accepting her brother-sister’s choice to be an illusion-magic clad, porcelain-faced, female-presenting thespian. That’s a very generous, oddly specific message of acceptance and love. There's nothing wrong with that. It's really rather heartwarming, and it has positive LGBTQ+ overtones that are nice to see.
But gods, this writing. Why not have Rinny start off the quest by saying that she’s having trouble finding her brother because all the House of Reveries members not only wear bizarre theatrical attire and porcelain masks, but also clad themselves in illusion spells to appear to be whatever they wish? Then we’d know early on to question appearances and voice actors. Make the appointment that her brother was going for “Sapiarch of Herbology” or something that has an actual, oblique tie to Alchemy. Indicate that her brother appeared only in very short spurts for the past year, and always in a bit of a rush. “He always seemed to have more work to get back to than he could manage. Poor dear.” Maybe indicate that sponsors are members that have been in the troupe at least a year and have proven themselves dedicated to the craft. Heck, maybe even have the shadows of the Hopefuls represent their real non-illusion selves so that the obvious silver-platter high elf would have a Khajiit shadow that an attentive player would notice and go “ah ha!!!” at. No arrow or blue circle pointing at the shadow, either. No more of that! Just a “player notices it or not” thing, like noticing that the healthy Joker in Batman: Arkham City had no bones when scanned and therefore was clearly Clayface in disguise. Subtle.
As is, none of those clues are in the quest proper and the twist comes across as a ham-fisted late addition to the experience. An unearned story direction that is as poorly foreshadowed as it is kind and accepting. If I wasn't trying to give a courteous benefit of a doubt, I'd think that the gender-bending lore addition to the House of Reveries and Alchemy bit was added late in development to the quest when the lion's share of it was already done. That would explain why it jumps tracks so quickly.
Eh. Grumble grumble. I wanted to complain, and I did. Lovely sentiment but questionable execution that leaves an odd gap in the lore for the House of Reveries. *shrug* Thank you for your time and letting me get that off my chest. :-P I haven't been this annoyed with the writing since I helped a crime boss's second in command hatch a plan to isolate her boss from all help and murder him, only to then see her pop up as his healer and join him in the grave. Usually the writing in this game is rock solid. Not necessarily in line with all the Elder Scrolls lore as a whole, but rock solid. Eh.