I hadn't planned on spending my Thursday afternoon getting teary-eyed over a Skyrim mod, but when dogs are involved, it's pretty hard to hold back the tears. Particularly with a story as touching as this one.
"Murphy" is a Skyrim mod that introduces a new dog companion to the game, but this beautiful boy has a particularly special backstory. His creator, 22-year old Daniel, made this mod in tribute to his own greyhound, who died last year.
"On April 14th, 2018, my beloved dog, Murphy, passed away," the description reads. "As soon as I was able to collect myself later that same day, I set to work doing what I knew I needed to do.
"I needed to immortalise him, the only way I knew how: through Skyrim modding."
While the mod has existed since May 2018, it's been hidden from view for several months, but Daniel's ready for it to become public once again. It's been updated, the page has been given a refresh, and the re-release is now viewable on Nexus Mods. The page also hosts a heartwarming letter addressed to Murphy, which you can read here. Have a pack of tissues ready.
"I chose modding simply because it's what I'm best at," Daniel told me when I asked him about the mod. "I have years of experience making mods but never released anything publicly besides a much smaller, much less significant font mod. I chose to release this publicly because I guess I thought it would help me through the loss. Which it did."
Real-life Murphy, Daniel told me, was the first dog his family had ever owned, and the reason he now loves dogs so fiercely. As a racing dog in his youth, Murphy was adopted by Daniel's family from an organisation dedicated to re-homing retired greyhounds (although Daniel said he "never really lost the racing instinct" and would continually try to chase small fluffy animals). The family looked after Murphy for close to a decade, and he meant a great deal.
"He and I were very close and we kinda understood each other in a way I didn't even understand most humans. As you can imagine, his loss was very devastating to me personally. I shut myself out from the world for weeks, and working on this mod was my only solace for a while."
In order to become pals with digital Murphy myself, I opened up Skyrim to try out the mod. You can find him hanging around in Whiterun in the daytime, and in the Bannered Mare at night (I found him in the market next to the pub and meat stand - Murphy's clearly enjoying himself there). Simply ask him to be your companion, and he'll happily follow you around and carry your items.
If you enter a fight, however, Murphy will scarper and cannot be harmed, as Daniel "didn't want to bring [his] dog back to life just to have him be killed by some bandit". Which is probably just as well, as nothing stresses me out more than protecting a dog in a video game.
Although not much of a fighter, Murphy can help you out with passive effects, which vary depending on the weather. Warm sunlight will give you health regeneration, cloudy skies add magicka regeneration, and rainy weather will give you stamina regeneration.
"One of the biggest points of focus for me when making this mod was making him passive and un-aggressive in his behaviour," Daniel said in regards to his design decisions. "Murphy was very gentle in life. He rarely played with chew-toys when he was younger, and never did when he was older. He never barked when he was excited or when strangers came to our house. He was just so peaceful and loving and so I tried to reflect that in game with his lack of combat and the passive buffs he grants the player."
Touchingly, Daniel has also included a spell to summon Murphy anywhere in Skyrim: including Sovngarde, which is where this gorgeous boy rightfully belongs.
There are still a couple of tweaks Daniel hopes to add to the mod - such as fixing the active effect for foggy weather, and adding in an effect for snow. Further down the line, Daniel told me he'd like to create a small quest as a prerequisite to adopting Murphy, along with making the mod available on Xbox - something he hopes to achieve relatively soon.
Along with the process of creating the mod, the community reaction to his work - both when it was first released and in its current re-released form - has helped Daniel come to terms with his grief.
"I received so, so many kind and supportive messages," Daniel recalled. "It honestly helped in my recovery process, hearing all these tales of others who had endured similar losses. [It] made me feel less alone and helpless. It was kinda beautiful in a way. And already, the responses to me unhiding the mod today have also been just as supportive and positive.
"So many bad things happen in the world, and people can be so mean to each other on the internet. I'm just glad I've been able to create even a small little environment of just peace and love."
It's a simple but heartwarming mod, and I can't think of a better way to commemorate a wonderful pet like Murphy. I'll leave you with Daniel's final words of advice to those who download the mod:
"Take care of my boy. He will take care of you."