PartnerGabriel Johnson (TheBawb) and global team
Service Narrative Design; Game Writing; Worldbuilding
Period January 2015 – March 2016
Platforms PC (Mod for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim)

I was the quest/story designer for a mod for Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, in which an enthusiastic team attempts to create a world inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Shire as depicted in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

I first wrote two questlines inspired by Tolkien’s works. I also used additional sources like J.E.A. Tyler’s Tolkien Lexicon and K.W. Fonstad’s The Atlas of Middle-earth to thoroughly understand every element of The Shire and how to best represent that in the narrative. We wanted the main storyline to open up tiers of side quests at several intervals, so I designed appropriate quests that match the theme and challenge level of each milestone. I then wrote the dialogue for the main questlines, learning a lot about branching dialogue and the amount of work it entails.

It is incredibly flattering to read all the reviews and nice comments. I stepped away from this mod when my increased professional activities prevented me from investing any substantial amount of time into this mod, and I am very happy to see that it was not only completed, but also became a beloved and often-called ‘very underappreciated’ mod by the community. It was, in hindsight, a delightful first step towards professional game writing and narrative design.


Tasks and Responsibilities

  • Design a compelling story in two directions: one good and one evil path
  • Write multiple quest lines for these paths, as well as 100+ tiered side quests
  • Create major and minor characters in the mod’s storyline, as well as advise on character creation by others
  • Use my knowledge of Sindarin, Tolkien’s fictional Elvish language, to create lore-appropriate names and phrases
  • Write dialogue for the NPCs and compose dialogue options for the player
  • Ensure that the mod’s world remains in spirit to J.R.R. Tolkien’s writing
  • Write books with background stories and folk tales for the players to read, intended to bring the mod world more alive


  • Writing branched narrative, especially since I was overtly ambitious about the amount of options each branch should include. 8 options is usually too many!
  • Not having the right tools/software for writing branched narratives resulted in complicated flowcharts that, while being colorful, are all but incomprehensible
  • Maintaining communications with team members in different time zones
  • Possessing no technical skills at the time meant that I had to guess how the quests would turn out after implementation
  • Fears of copyright infringements resulted in the team changing all the names to adjacent replacements, which clashes with the care we took to be faithful to the source material

Learnings and Takeaways

  • How to write for games and take the player into account during the experiencing of the story
  • How to design and write branching narratives and dialogue
  • How to work within a technical framework, in this case the Skyrim Creation Kit, that dictates how quests are layered and organized
  • How to include tiered side quests that fan out from key story moments in the main quest
  • How to design in spreadsheets