Picture it: the dead of winter, 2014. Was it only six years ago? Feels like so much longer.
Anyway: the dead of winter, 2014. I had stumbled upon LoversLab just under a year previous in the same way everyone probably does – by Googling some version of “Skyrim” and “sex.” And I found the motherlode. I also found the reason that I still, after all these years, have never got around to finishing the main storyline.
I downloaded a bunch of mods and started the game in excitement, then bitterly spent the better part of the next three days learning the meanings of words like “BOSS” (this was pre-LOOT) and “FNIS” and “mod manager.” Seriously, if it hadn’t been for the promise of sweet sweet semi-realistic sex in a video game, I probably would have dumped Skyrim altogether.
I finally got a stable (ha!) game running and began to play in earnest. By which I mean I kept finding new mods I wanted to try so I kept starting over. Things were going along swimmingly for a while, but over time I came across the same glaring omission in the LoversLab experience – there were rape mods and slavery mods, there were rape mods that turned into slavery mods. What there wasn’t, was a place for the player to get auctioned into slavery.
I went through the usual channels to try to cajole some of the modders (I’m sorry – mod-makers, since “modder” has somehow come to mean “one who uses mods” instead of the more logical “one who makes mods”) into make an auction mod. And by “usual” I, of course, mean that I mentioned it in the support threads of their mods. “What we need is an auction mod,” I’d say. Hint hint. It seemed like such an obvious and natural thing to make! C’mon, Skyrimll, this is right up your alley!
But they didn’t take the bludgeoning hint, so I decided to try to make it myself. I had some coding experience. Not a lot, but I was writing stupid Basica programs in 1983 on our TRS-80 and I had gone through a few years of college trying to become a programmer. I could do this!
I cracked open the Creation Kit (hereafter the CK) for the first time and set myself to the first task: making a cage.
This sounds simple and, once you’ve done it once, it becomes simpler, but finding your way around Skyrim inside the CK is very confusing. It’s a mess of “world spaces,” each with its own giant list of locations, most of them called “Wilderness” with some numbers attached. The hardest part about placing things in the world is finding your way back to them once you’ve placed them.
Of course, that begged the first question: where to put this auction? I didn’t want to mess up any cities or run into other mods, so I figured it would be best to put in somewhere in the wilderness in a place where no one else was likely to place anything. I settled on a bit of land between Riften and the gates to Morrowind, in the general area of the Dawnstar tunnel entrance. I found a cage in the game assets and put it in place. Then discovered that the cages don’t automatically come with doors, so I went back to the assets and found the right sized door and added it. Much to my relieved satisfaction, placing the door on the front of the cage made it automatically work. Yay!
Now most people would have tried to make, you know, an actual mod before posting his work for the public to see. I, for whatever reason, decided that the cage was quite enough for now, so on February 5, 2014, I published my first mod.
I wrote out my mission statement as the mod description. The original is long since lost to history but the general concept behind Simple Slavery was this:
The entire slavery experience in one package, from beginning to end.
Thus it was just, simply, slavery. Pretty clever, right? Here’s how it was supposed to work: You get defeated in battle and get enslaved by someone via Sanguine’s Debauchery. After some time, a caravan would come by and purchase you from your SD master and you would end up in the auction. There would be a crowd around the auctioneer, none of whom had any actual relation to any of the randomly picked quests, all of which were to be part of the mod itself.
Which one you ended up with would be chosen at random, then you would move to the slavery quest and do…whatever happened in that quest. I was still working out those details at the time. I made big promises, including saying things like, “Tired of getting captured by random bandits only to spend your imprisonment walking between the nearest ore node and the road?”
See? Simple. All you would need was SD+ to send you there and you would be set.
Now here’s where my true love of this site really began. What kind of idiot posts a cage in the trees, calls it a mod, and posts it in a public place without any actual content? Looking at it objectively, I don’t know how I didn’t get derided from the start. Instead, people were very friendly and excited. As @gaggedgirl123 put it,
I even got my very first bug tester: @konker420 downloaded the mod, found the cage, and reported his success.
I also got my first person who failed to read the mod description which explicitly stated “All there is right now is a cage in the woods near Riften.” Which led to the very first time I had someone else (thanks @carnifex!) help troubleshoot one of my support threads.
Emboldened by this unexpected support (the truth is that I had uploaded it for the sole purpose of having it handy to download to my laptop. I hadn’t expected people to actually start to pay attention to it), I added two people to the cage.
@carniflex then introduced me to my first bugs, including something I had never heard of but which is well known among the mod-making community: the infamous grey-faced bug.
The fix for the grey-faced bug is to target the character in the CK and press CTRL+F4. @dabonzors22 brought up the fix and then none other than SD+ mod-maker Skyrimll (now @DeepBlueFrog) explained how and where to package the resulting meshes and textures, then told me I could reach out to him in order to get SD+ to play nicely with my mod.
He had regretted that statement ever since. This was the beginning of my friendship with DBF (which continues to this day).
Now let’s take a moment to share a hearty laugh:
Looking through the original mod’s support thread, I see that @xaz offered to help. Why didn’t I take him up on that? Jesus. I am an idiot. He did introduce me to Death Alternative, though, which became one of the cornerstones of the mod.
As a side note, I still don’t understand why people dislike Death Alternative. Just four easy adjustments and it is steady and reliable. I’ve never had a problem with it.
Anyway, soon I realized that it was weird and silly to have the auction in the woods. The most logical place for something as seedy as a slave market seemed to be Riften. There was some debate. Whiterun is much more central but it didn’t really seem to fit the vibe. Solitude has that lovely stage but then I’d be competing with Roggvir’s beheading and that was a hassle I didn’t want to go near. So I picked the back lot, as it had a handy boarded up door that I could pretend was the way to the interior auction holding cells, and that part of Riften just seemed useless and unused.
I moved the cage and the slaves there and made an auctioneer, then a few people standing around watching. Then I tried to make some dialogue and discovered the next big thing that every mod-maker (who uses dialogue) quickly learns: dialogue won’t work until you build an “SEQ” file. Why this was never fixed by Beth is beyond me, but fortunately for us all, someone begged the genius who made the XEdit series to add it to TES5Edit, and he did. So if you’re making a mod that includes dialogue, make sure you remember to refresh your SEQ every single time (and save it in its own folder in the “common” folder) or your dialogue won’t make it into the game.
It was at this point, on version 0.05, that I hit my first major delay – I had to actually start going through the tutorials to learn how to make things actually happen. To see how far things didn’t go, where was my stated intention as of February 25, 2014:
“At this point my plan (if I can ever get the scripting to work) is to have the head slaver (John Randall) show up when you have been captured with SD. At first, though, you will become enslaved just by being in Randall's vicinity, since he will force a conversation with you that will lead to you getting hit on the head and waking up naked in the slave cage by Riften. I'm currently going through the tutorials (damn real life, interfering with my time!) trying to figure out how to insert the OnHit event to make this work.”
Spoiler alert: I never was able to make that work. In fact, just over a month after this optimistic statement, the mod officially ended. I went up against the CK and was utterly defeated.
I tried to make it sound like I just didn't have time but the ugly truth was that I could do simple things but I could not, it turned out, do the sort of complexities that would be required for a full on auction/enslavement experience. The dream was over.