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08 June 2012

Mod Interrupted

The Plot Thickens

After releasing TGD03 The Lizard's Head, I immediately began working on the next Morrowind mod I wanted to do in my Traveller's Guide to Dining series. I turned my attention to the Plot and Plaster tavern in Tel Aruhn, which had always intrigued me because of its name. First I looked up the various meanings of both plot and plaster to see which kinds of story ideas they would engender. Plot can mean plan, scheme, conspiracy, intrigue, scenario, story, design, or tract of land. Plaster as a verb can mean spread or smear; as a noun can mean a thick gooey material or something to make a molded structure with; or in slang can mean to get drunk (plastered). I eventually came up with a story along the conspiracy and intrigue line that would be weird and Lovecraftian and would be revealed to the player throughout a multi-part quest.

Tel Aruhn is a small island, the home of Telvanni Archmagister Gothren and his entourage, and populated with many local shopkeepers and fishermen. I decided to involve quite a few of the existing characters in my story. To give each one a different character, I came up with personality types: gossip, skeptic, scholar, spiritualist, and weirdo. I also created two new characters, one to serve as a local travel guide, the other to be the waiter in the tavern. I wrote quite a bit of dialogue for at least a dozen characters, making each personality unique and defining their relationships to each other.

Dining Options

While I was writing dialogue I was also working on various objects, the first set being dining-related. Since the Plot and Plaster is a tavern on an island, I figured the food choices would be limited and mostly seafood oriented. I went with a diner theme and created daily specials, a soup of the day, and a few desserts. For the drinks I chose an assortment that I felt would appeal to the types of people who live in Tel Aruhn.

Plot and Plaster Food Menu Plot and Plaster Drink Menu

I spent a lot of time choosing the typefaces that I used on the menus. I chose Boister Black for the name of the tavern because I think of these kinds of places as British or Celtic. For the headings and day names I chose Pistilli Roman because I liked the way it looked for a diner theme. For the food names I chose Chopin Script. The "Served with" line is Euphorigenic. The reason I used a combination of print and script typefaces was to draw a contrast between the villagers and their plain, simple fare, and the upper-class Telvanni and their fancy ways. Both types of people would frequent this tavern because it's the only place on the island to meet, eat, and drink.

The paper texture is from, a great site for free, high-resolution images. The design in the background of the menus is a tracing I did in Inkscape of the Telvanni flag symbol. I made a solid version and an outline version, assembled them in GIMP slightly offset, and then turned the opacity down to make the design look like more of a watermark.

To round out the dining experience, I created some new textures for goblets, tankards, bowls, plates, and coasters; and, with the help of some friends at Great House Fliggerty, figured out how to put a 2D food image on a plate so players would have something interesting to look at when they bought food.

Textured Goblet Textured Tankard
Textured Plate Textured Bowl
Plot and Plaster Coaster Food on Plate

The dish texture is adapted from a Bulgarian clay plate design I found on the web. The glass texture for the tankard I also found on the web. If I remember correctly, the tankard trim texture is a repurposed recolored existing game texture. The coaster texture is the Telvanni symbol tracing I did for the menu (at full opacity) placed over a coarse fiber image from with a brown gradient between. The food on the plate is a combination of an image I found on the web and a photo I took of some sweet potato fries that I made for dinner one evening.

Ash Yam Chips (I mean, baked sweet potato "fries") Recipe
  • Preheat the oven to 430 degrees.
  • Cut two medium to large sweet potatoes into wedges or strips about 1/2 inch thick.
  • Pour some olive oil in the bottom of a large glass baking pan.
  • Heavily sprinkle ground cinnamon onto the olive oil.
  • Put all the sweet potato pieces in the pan and mix them around with your hands until they are well coated with the olive oil and cinnamon, then spread them out in roughly a single layer.
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes. The time depends on your oven. I bake them for 23 minutes in my gas oven. I like them kind of soft.
  • Enjoy. Makes about 4 servings.

Cluttering Up the Place

I also needed to create several objects that would support the story, which, as you will see, involves dreugh. According to Elder Scrolls lore, dreugh are intelligent, mainly sea-dwelling creatures. In Morrowind, they exist only as unpleasant creatures that attack the player on sight. I wanted to explore a different side of them, so here are some dreugh-related objects that I created.

Fisherman Picture

To create this fisherman picture, I placed a character and some props at a certain location in Tel Aruhn, then ran the game, went to that spot, lined it up the way I wanted, and took a screenshot. I also took a screenshot of a dreugh and used GIMP to place it at a suitable location in the water. The picture frame is from Free Photo Frames.

Dreugh Mosaic

Creating this mosaic was fairly complicated. I arranged an underwater scene in the Construction Set and took a screenshot. Then I loaded a model of a dreugh into Nifskope, moved the animation slider until I got a pose I liked, then took a screenshot. Then I created a GIMP file with three layers: the background, the plants, and the dreugh. I kept the layers separate because I wanted to use different sized tiles for each layer. After carefully cutting the plants out from their background I ran each layer through GIMP's Filters > Distorts > Mosaic function. I then combined the layers and added a picture frame from Free Photo Frames.

Dreugh Statue

The dreugh statue on the left is based on the original ash statue from the game. I took the red eye texture and changed it to green. Then I took the skin texture from the dreugh model and mapped it onto the statue model, making sure that the face lined up well. I think this turned out to be sufficiently weird looking.

 Dreugh Character
The creepy dreugh on the right is a basic dreugh model with a new face texture. I colored the face to a bluish gray and overlaid it with red Dunmer eyes. He  is a new character I created named Miiet with whom it will be possible to converse, under certain circumstances.

Irna Maryon's Picture

This picture is one of the story clues. It will be found hanging in Irna Maryon's shop. The decorative lines at top and bottom are the typeface Jugendstil Ornamente. The words are in Cardinal. The plants and shells were cut out from screenshots. The background was textured with GIMP's Filters > Artistic > Apply Canvas function. If you look closely you can see that the canvas texture is applied in rectangular sections. It doesn't look very good when applied over a large surface, so the background needs to be redone at some point. The picture frame is from Free Photo Frames.


After working on this mod for four months, through the autumn of 2011, I was only about a third of the way done, plus I hadn't figured out how to resolve the story in a satisfactory manner. Being so laser-focused I was getting pretty fried, but I was having a lot of fun playing around with textures. I decided to take a hiatus and go off in a different artistic direction.

Back in January 2011 I had joined Shutterstock to see if I could have any success at selling photos or images. Out of my first batch of ten pictures only two were accepted. They require at least seven pictures in a batch to be acceptable, so it was back to the drawing board for me. Being a complete amateur at photography and realizing I didn't have any feel for this market, I looked around for something else.

I decided that it might be a better idea to sell my photos and designs on products, where I would be in complete control over what my images were associated with. My next stop was CafePress. After creating an account there I tried uploading an image but found their web site to be unusable due to either browser incompatibility or the fact that I won't install Flash on my computer. In any case, I couldn't get their site to work, so I was back to square one again.

In March 2011, after poking around on the web some more, I discovered Zazzle. Third time's a charm! This site rocked. I had no problems uploading images or putting them on the many products available for customization. They made everything easy. Thus was born my Zazzle store, Clown Fish Cafe.

I hadn't done much with my store while I was working on my mods, but now I decided I had a new calling — being creative with digital art and possibly making some pocket change in the process.

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