Creating and developing a character in Skyrim can be a daunting, overwhelming process, especially if you’ve never played an Elder Scrolls game before. So here’s a handy guide to character creation and development designed for newcomers to Skyrim and for anyone interested in starting again and playing as a well-designed, effective character type.
I’m starting with the assassin because it’s my personal character type of choice, but there’ll be more if this proves popular.
We’ll cover race selection, what skills and attributes to focus on and how to increase them fast, which Perks really help and which are a waste of XP, what kind of equipment load-out you should use and even what quests to prioritise in order to develop the relevant skills and earn bonuses to suit your character’s specialisation.
This is by no means a definitive, rigid set of instructions – the beauty of Skyrim is that you can do anything you want with your character – but it will, at the very least, give you some effective blueprints to work from.
This is my own personal character build of choice, and I plumped for it straight away in Skyrim, after enjoying playing this way the most in Oblivion. A high level character following this template can clear out an entire dungeon of enemies without ever being seen, and personally I never get tired of the booming sound effect you get every time you make a successful stealth attack. It’s a popular choice for many players because, so long as you’re careful not to break stealth, you can take down most non-boss enemies with one or two attacks.
This is the race I chose for my assassin because of the starting bonuses to Archery (+10), Light Armor (+5) and Sneak (+5), which are especially useful when starting out. The +5 to Alchemy can be useful for creating powerful poisons later on, but if you can do so much damage with stealth attacks that you’ll rarely really need any additional effects.
A decent alternative to the Bosmer with a little more emphasis on Sneak over Archery. They also sacrifice the Light Armor bonus in favour of One-handed, making them a better choice if you prefer the more showboaty but riskier backstabbing assassin style. Their night vision power was useful for assassins in Oblivion – in which it got really dark when it was dark – but in Skyrim it never gets so dark that you really can’t see unaided.
If you’re playing as a pure assassin then you’ll barely need to upgrade anything other than Stamina, which will be very useful when you unlock the Eagle Eye and Steady Hand perks. You’ll want a Health increase occasionally just to make sure you’re not at risk of dying from one hit. And you might want to build up your Magicka if you decide to augment your Stealth skills with some Illusion magic.
This is the most important skill for an assassin so use it. Whenever there are other characters around, be they friend or foe, go into stealth mode and you will enhance this skill. It seems like a slow way to get about, but you’ll save so much time in the long run by being able to kill so many enemies with a single attack.
Ranged attacks are easier, less risky and usually just as effective for assassins so you should focus on the skill as much as possible. If you’re using your stealth skills effectively then you’ll rarely get charged by enemies and will get plenty of practice with your bow.
One-handed stealth attacks do devastating damage and are immensely satisfying to pull off, but they do entail a lot of risk. Still, any assassin should get a little bit of practice with a dagger, lest he need to defend himself in close combat in an emergency.
To assassin purists using Illusion magic is cheating, but it can be a great way to augment your stealth skills, particularly when they’re not that developed yet. Just keep spamming those low-level Illusion spells to rank up.
This is the most important perk for an assassin. Even if you want to progress to up-close kills, this is a stepping stone on the way to the powerful Assassin’s Blade perk.
You’ll want at least the first few levels of this but, seeing as stealth is still in part determined by your own real-time skill and judgement, you might not need to max it out if you’re good.
This perk makes it much harder to hit moving targets as it gives you more time to line up your shot and your enemies less time to find you. It still comes in handy even if you are detected too.
Should you go down the Illusionist route then this is essential. There’s no use casting any stealth spells if enemies hear you casting them.
If you’re really stealthy then you won’t need armour, but I’d recommend it as a precaution, and this Light Armor perk will help ensure using Steady Hand doesn’t drain your Stamina so badly.
Shrouded Gloves, Shrouded Hand Wraps, Cicero’s Gloves, Jester’s Gloves
Very powerful items in – or on, if you will – the hands of a hardcore assassin. They make backstabs do double damage, which is absolutely lethal if you combine them with the Assassin’s Blade perk.
The only downside of getting a 35% bonus to Sneaking is that you might not really feel the benefit of it later in the game.
Ancient Shrouded Cowl
This awesome cowl is tailor-made for assassins, offering a massive 35% bonus to all bow damage.
Like regular boots of Muffle, but just a little bit better and with a cooler name.
This bow not only carries heavy elemental damage bonuses, it also slows its target, which is nearly as good as paralyzing them.
Boots Of The Old Gods
Unlike most stealthy boots, these don’t make you any quieter, instead offering a simple 20% bonus to Sneak.
The Pale Blade
The Fear enchantment can be a life saver for assassin’s, and this special blade has the added bonus of some hefty Frost damage. Find it in Frostmere Crypt, which is on a mountain about halfway between Morthal and Dawnstar.
If you choose to enhance your natural stealth skills with some Illusion magic then this will make a good alternative to a helm.
This awesome armour offers quiet movement and poisons enemies that get close, but it does count as Heavy Armor, and if you’ve been playing as an assassin throughout you’re unlikely to have much Heavy Armor skill. Once you reach level 30, head to the Sacellum of Boethiah – east of Wildhlem on the very edge of the map – to begin the Boethiah’s Calling Quest. The Ebony Mail is your reward for completing it.
This Dragon Priest Mask offers good protection from damage and a 20% bonus to archery, as well as to both Lockpicking and Alchemy. Get it from Krosis himself who can be found, along with a dragon, at Shearpoint, a Word Wall on a peak halfway between Whiterun and Windhelm.
Valdr’s Lucky Dagger
If you fail to make a stealth attack then a critical hit is the next best thing, and this dagger has a generous 25% chance to strike a critical hit. Valdr will give it to you if you help him at Moss Mother Cavern, which is on the west bank of the lake north of Falkreath.
Bow of Stunning, Immobilizing, Petrifying
Very useful generic magic weapon for an assassin, simply because paralyzed targets are much easier to hit for a second time.
You can’t get much stealthier than being invisible. Trouble is, actually doing anything breaks the spell.
A handy way to improve stealth, especially early on before your Sneak skill has improved much. Get yourself some boots with this built in.
Fear, Rout, Hysteria
Useful if you do get spotted and mobbed by enemies. It’s well worth getting a dagger with a Fear enchantment.
Obviously the best faction to join for an assassin – your skills will be well suited to each quest, and the rewards will feed back into those same skills. In order to join you need to speak to Aventus Aretino in the Aretino home in Windhelm and complete his Innocent Lost quest. It’s also worth noting that in order to get hold of the awesome Ancient Shrouded armour set you need to complete the Locate The Assassin of Old quest and to unlock that you must kill Gaius Maro in a city when you complete the Breaching Security mission. Kill him outside of a city and you won’t receive Olava’s Token and won’t be able to unlock Locate The Assassin of Old.
All that lockpicking, pickpocketing and stealing isn’t much use to an assassin but the Thieves Guild still offers numerous benefits for the discerning hired killer. Once you’ve completed the Dark Brotherhood and earned the Dawnstar Sanctuary, for example, you can buy upgrades for it from Delvin Mallory at the Riften Thieves Guild. There’ll also be plenty of opportunities to practice your stealth skills and some handy item awards as you rank up.
No One Escapes Cidhna Mine
To get the Armor Of The Old Gods set, go to Markath, witness the attack in the marketplace and receive a note from Eltrys, which will trigger The Forsworn Conspiracy quest. At the end of this quest agree to go to jail and No One Escapes Cidhna Mine will start. During this quest, co-operate with Madanach and you will be rewarded with the Armor Of The Old Gods.
Vampires make great assassins because of their Illusion magic and stealth bonuses, but there are downsides to being a vampire – you’re weakened during the day and you have to feed – so it’s a matter of preference really. Become one by getting attacked by one and contracting the Sanguinare Vampiris disease. Go three full days without curing it and you’ll turn full vampire. Look out for the following quests, which do, or at least can, involve vampires:
Laid To Rest
Trouble In Skyrim
A Daedra’s Best Friend
Rising at Dawn
You can now find our guide to building the best mage in Skyrim here.