Well, it turns out I couldn't stay away from Mournhold, because I wanted to try out Mournhold Expanded, a very large multi-mod, similar to Balmora Expansion in that it adds new shops, items, and locations, but it seems to add a lot more of these things than Balmora Expansion does. It does not extensively modify the existing Mournhold as BE does to Balmora, but contains its additions in several new cells accessed through doors added to the main Temple area.
But first, a bit about the Tribunal main quest
Unfortunately, any time I talked with the NPCs (there are hundreds of new NPCs added), they always wanted to complain about the horrible ash storms plaguing the city, which interfered with any special greetings they were supposed to have, which would have given me new mod-related topics to discuss with them. So, I figured I'd better follow through with the rest of the main quest just so I could get things back to normal, a necessity about which I complained in a previous post. My advice is, if you don't want to be more or less forced to finish things off in a hurry, don't turn on the weather control machine. After you do, there's not much you can do except plow through to the end.
That said, I have some nice things to say about the main quest, which I'll hide in a spoiler block. This is mostly about some unique and interesting architecture, but there are some spoilers in the form of information Almalexia gives you as you set off for the last quest. I'm not going to get into what you find at the end of this quest, or what happens:
Almalexia sends you to go talk to Sotha Sil, the third member of the three mortals-turned-gods. I know Sotha Sil mainly from the bits involving him in the long in-game book series 2920, The Last Year of the First Era, where he is portrayed as a wise but strict teacher of the mystic arts. According to what the characters said earlier, he's been very reclusive over the past centuries, staying in his impregnable Clockwork City, blocked off from the rest of the world, with only his fabricants for company, working on who knows what.
In an earlier quest, I had retrieved Barilzar's Mazed Band for Almalexia, a magic ring. Almalexia informed me, after I went around collecting pieces to reforge Nerevar's old sword, that the Mazed Band allows people to teleport to various locations, including the Clockwork City, so she used the ring to sent me there.
That sword, by the way, is rather ugly. A strange curved blade with no sense of design or style to it, with the fact that it's on fire as the only aesthetically pleasing element. Additionally, it's a long blade, and I have almost no skill in long blades.
Anyway, I found myself in the Clockwork City's entrance hall, which was half-flooded but interestingly designed, with gears and cogs spinning around merrily in the walls, and giant gear-shaped (slow-moving) automatic doors. It's hard to say what inspired this design. I have to assume that Sotha Sil got some basic clockwork ideas from the Dwarves, who seem to have used some amount of clockwork, judging from some spinning gears in their steam machines, and probably in their robots, too, but Sotha Sil's version seems leagues different from the dwarven technology. Much less industrial looking, very little use of lava (there was only one lava pit in the city, and it seemed different from the lava pits in the dwemer citadels), more elegant and clean. I think I still saw some steam here and there, but by far the most common effect was something else.
Once I got past the entrance area, I found myself in some very unique corridors, of a very rich and interesting design, much prettier than the dwarven architecture. Gears were spinning everywhere, of course, and the walls had etched patterns in them which reminded me of circuits. The ceilings were spaced out with "spark fountains" of some kind. I originally thought they were evidence of something malfunctioning, but they were so ubiquitous that I have to assume they served a more decorative purpose.
As good-looking as the corridors are, they're completely devoid of furniture (aside from the built-in benches), as well as containers. It's kind of a shame this nice architecture isn't utilised to its full potential, and is used only in one quest, much like the Imperial Library in Oblivion -- beautiful, but only visitable once, and only for a faction quest. I'll have to search and see if there are mods made using this Clockwork City tileset.
Back to Mournhold ExpandedSo, with all obstructions out of the way, I went to go explore Mournhold Expanded. I spent several hours looking around the places, doing a couple of simple quests, buying some unique items and clothes, and picking up a new companion or two. The mod adds a water resort, a theme park with rides, fireworks, and entertainment, a horseback riding area, a shopping mall with restaurant, a huge waterfront area that I've barely begun to explore, and plenty of other stuff listed in the readme that I haven't had time to explore yet. One of the stores is a furniture store with custom furniture and decorations that you can buy and install in your own home(s). Several others contain collections of clothing from various artists, including Korana's Silk Wraps mod, which seems to be difficult to obtain on its own lately.
The NPCs are mostly good looking, but there's a strange mix of Better Bodies NPCs and the original vanilla models for some NPCs. This was apparently a necessity in order to include some of the new custom animation and poses, such as sitting and drinking, or playing in a band. It's just very strange to see these low-rez, blocky, mannequin-looking figures amongst the ones I've been used to. (Note image with dancers in foreground and musicians in background.)
Spooky Halloween-style ride at Almalexia Gardens
The first one I visited was the Halloween-style holiday, called "Tales and Tallows", which was full of carved Jack-o-lanterns, a mummy, spiderwebs, and other Halloweeny stuff, and (my favourite) a haunted mine cart ride. It has the theme park ride entrance look, with railings and gates made of dwemer architecture, and a queue of other people waiting to go on the ride, all of whom are more than happy to allow you to go on ahead before them. To the sides of the ride are a replica graveyard complete with ghosts, and a track with some other people in mine carts. Strong green lights predominate here, underscoring the fun-scary theme park atmosphere.
Pulling the level puts you immediately on the mine cart and rolling slowly along the track. I recommend being in 1st person view for this ride, not 3rd person, because if you're in 3rd person you can see yourself standing over the cart as it rolls along, ruining the illusion that you're sitting in it. Once the ride begins, you can't move, use magic, or change between 1st and 3rd person, until you reach the end and are released from the ride.
The mine cart takes you past about a dozen spooky set pieces, including pirate ships with skeleton crews, a haunted house with ghosts floating around, and others along the same theme, all bathed in green light. At the end of it, you can either go on it again in reverse, or go through the door at the end, which will transport you directly back to the Year In Tamriel lobby.
I'll be trying the other ones later.