The Elder Scrolls' Most Terrifying Tall Tale

It was only a mod, they said. What could possibly be scary about a mod?

A user-made modification, Jvk1166z.esp (pronounced "juhvickoneonesixsixzzzeesp!") surfaced years ago and was supposedly meant to do... something to The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. Thing is, nobody quite understood what, because loading the mod would apparently lock up your game for an hour and then corrupt your install and all your saves.

Eventually word got out that you could get around that Skyrim-sized problem by running the whole thing in an MS-DOS emulator, which, er, didn't make a whole lot of sense but people ran with it anyway. Or so the story goes.

And then things got downright spooky.

The mod snaked its fingers right into Morrowind's guts, controlling it like a demented sock puppet. Most strikingly, heaps of major NPCs (including all needed to complete the main quest) immediately died, their corpses a permanent reminder that something majorly weird was going on. As the mod progressed, more and more characters died until entire locations were ghost towns. Cities humming, singing, screaming with perfect silence. And no one knew why.

Some of the surviving NPCs would, at night, briefly step outside, look up, and mutter, "Watch they sky." Others would say nothing at all no matter how much you talked to them.

Meanwhile the player's health would slowly decrease at all times, faster if they were standing still. This, allegedly, was because they were being hunted, having their life sapped by some malevolent primeval force and/or a re-skinned Dark Brotherhood dude (probably named Tim).

The Elder Scrolls' Most Terrifying Tall Tale

There was a dungeon, too. An incredibly tough one that would do things like display images from your "My Pictures" folder on the walls, according to this "account" of the whole thing. But it contained a door that just wouldn't open no matter what. Upon exiting the dungeon, however, something changed:

"At this point, one of the players - a friend of mine from the board - noticed (and the few others who got this far agreed) that the night sky was no longer the usual night sky of Tamriel; it had changed to a depiction of a real night sky. And it moved."

"According to him, based on the constellations and planets, the sky started around February 2005. If you died, loaded, or went back into the Citadel, it would start over."

Watch the sky. And don't stop.

This person's friend allegedly did just that, first for 24 hours, then a couple days, and so on and so on, trying and trying for longer periods of time. Eventually he started posting messages like:

"So it's 2014 [according to the in-game sky] now... since it's always night, the stars are always moving. The whole screen is dark, but you can still see the brightest stars moving around. Tieras was gone... everyone in Ghostgate was gone. I don't know where they went. They're not in any of the nearby caves. But there's new stuff... people still don't say anything, but their eyes are bleeding. it's so dark that even with a light spell you have to get right up against them to see, but there they are, little dark streaks coming down from their eyes. I think I gotta be getting close."

And

"FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK! FUUUUUUUUUCK! So FUCKING done. So, I wait, the three days, right, and right after the FUCKING Assassin made me jiggle the mouse, he shrieks again. So, I look, and everyone in town is outside. They're all saying, "Watch the sky." I don't see anything, though. But then the game starts getting dark... like REALLY dark. I turn up the brightness all the way on my monitor, and I can still barely see."

Eventually he supposedly starting dreaming about the mod and the assassin and the sky. The assassin would shriek at him from on high, supported by spindly spider legs. Weird shit, in other words.

Despite countless attempts to reproduce all of this, nobody's been able to. Why? Because in all likelihood the mod is not—nor was it ever—real. It's an elaborate legend that's only grown with time, a tall tale that beats up other tall tales and steals their lunch money. Many people on fan forums have decided the mod never actually existed, and the people behind this very informative video reached a similar conclusion:

And yet, some especially dedicated fans can't let go of this ghost of a tale. They've still pursued it over the years, hoping that maybe fact and fiction are the most curious bedfellows of all in this increasingly deranged story:

The Elder Scrolls' Most Terrifying Tall Tale

The Elder Scrolls' Most Terrifying Tall Tale

The Elder Scrolls' Most Terrifying Tall Tale

There's even an entire subreddit dedicated to recreating the "mod" for real, though activity on it has slowed in the past few months.

Clearly, though, Jvk1166z.esp struck a chord, even if it was only a glorified ghost story. It became larger than life, something that existed because of a game but also independent of it. It became a conversation, a hunt for clues, a shared "game" among a quietly whispering cabal of players. As a result, it spread far and wide—took on new layers and gained new twists. Details a true tie to Morrowind never would've allowed. That's the thing about a good story: it's all in the telling. In that respect, Jvk1166z.esp is pretty damn special.

I'm looking to write about more video game tall tales, because I think they're really cool. What are some of your favorites? Let me know in the comments or email me at nathan.grayson@kotaku.com.