|The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim For posts concerning Bethesda Softworks' The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, its expansions and various DLC.|
|Thu, 12th Jul '12, 8:33pm||#1|
Armed with My Mallet O' Thinking
As the thread title suggests, here's my guide for my latest character that I played through the game with. I actually took my Ranger-Conjuror all the way to the level cap of 81, but the reason I'm posting this guide is that I considered this character the pinnacle of my character development long before I ever reached the cap. He was extremely enjoyable to play, and was capable of taking on whatever was thrown at him from a very early level. There is no long hard slog with this character to reach a certain perk, or to be able to craft/use a particular item or spell that will slow you down greatly along the way. (That's not to say there aren't points where you'll find the game a lot easier after acquiring a certain item or perk, I'm only saying it's not mandatory to do so to get the character to perform well.)
Now, even though I took this character all the way to the level cap, there's no reason you'd ever need to get this character anywhere close to the cap to make him both extremely effective and fun to play. Since I assume most players will not have the dedication to take a character all the way to level 81 (it does take a tremendous amount of micromanagement), I have the perk distribution and play style tailored to someone who will develop thier character to around level 50-something, which should be easily acheivable for most players (unavoidable really if you work on your crafting skills).
A couple of other notes before we really get into the character. The reason summons are included in the build is because if you play above the standard difficulty, it's a heck of a lot easier to have some help at hand. Any follower can easily perform as well as or better than a summons in combat, but most followers are rather gung-ho when it comes to battle, and are therefore detrimental for any character that likes to sneak, perform sneak attacks, and/or snipe. A ranger does all three. Since you decide when a summons enters the battle, it obviates this problem. Also, just like followers, summons scale with difficulty. The difficulty setting only affects how difficult it is for you. Any conjured creatures and NPCs get the exact same bonuses as enemies do, so a summon is equally effective in battle, irrespective of the difficulty setting.
As for the character itself, it follows the standard ranger archetype. When you think ranger, you think of a lightly armored character, specializing in stealth, bows, and dual wielding. This character does that. For the AD&D fans of the world, who find specific derivations of the ranger particularly appealing, such as the stalker, the archer, or the beast master, this character incorporates aspects of all three. (Directly in the case of the stalker and archer, and indirectly with the beast master, as your summons won't be animals after you progress beyond conjure familiar.)
I aplogize in advance for the length of this guide. But I put a lot of planning and research into it, and hopefully, the explanations provided for why I took and why I skipped certain skills and perks will help give some level of credence to this. Otherwise, it sounds like I'm just telling you what to do. There were reasons why I did what I did, contained below.
Onto the build overview:
Core Skills: Archery, One-Handed, Light Armor, Sneak, Conjuration
Ancillary Skills: Smithing, Enchanting, Pickpocket, Speech
The only difference between the Core and Ancillary Skills is that the former you'll use regularly in combat, while the latter won't be. That's not to say they aren't important, and I definitely would not recommend you fully develop the Core Skills at the expense of the Ancillary ones. They can and should be leveled concurrently.
Character Creation: As is the case with all builds, any race can be selected if you fancy a particular type of character. The ranger-conjuror is no different, but I sincerely feel the Breton is the optimal selection. Not only do Bretons have the lovely base ability of 25% magic resistance right out of the box (note that in Skyrim, magic resistance = elemental resistance), but they start with a conjuration skill of 25 and the spell conjure familiar, meaning you can start working on your conjuration skill prior to leaving Helgen.
Recommended Perks: Overdraw 5/5, Eagle Eye, Power Shot
This is the longest explanation, which is why I'm starting here. I promise they get shorter!
The idea here (as it is with all the combat related skills) is to maximize damage and utility with a minimum amount of perks spent. Overdraw gives a flat +20% damage per rank, so once you get all five you'll double the damage output of your bow on each and every shot. Eagle Eye allows for precision sniping, and is a prerequisite for Power Shot. Power Shot won't directly increase your damage output, but the ability to stagger your foes is invaluable, as it typically allows you to get off a second shot if the first one doesn't kill what you're shooting at.
Now for those who ask, "If we're trying to maximize damage, what about Ciritical Shot? Won't that help increase my damage output?" Yes and no. Technically, yes, critical shot will marginally increase your damage, but not by much. The bonus damage is calculated from the base damage of your bow. Perks don't help, smithing improvements don't help, arrows don't help. So with all three ranks, you'll get a 20% chance of it activating, with 75% bonus damage onto the critical shot. The best base damage you can get on a bow is 20, meaning that you're adding 15 points of damage... 20% of the time. Meaning you're adding an average of 3 damage per shot and you're spending 3 perks to get it. With a decent archery skill, decent smithing improvements, and a few perks in overdraw, you'll probably be hitting for around 100 damage when your character is level 20-something, and once optimized, 300 damage is acheivable at high levels. So it's totally not worth it.
A few Dawnguard notes as it will be available by the end of the month for the non-XBox players:
On smithing arrows: You'll now be able to smith arrows (and bolts at Dawnguard castle only). The recipe is the same for all the different arrows and bolts. They all require one piece of firewood and a metal ingot of whatever type of arrow you want to make. (Of course you also need the relevant smithing perk.) Each time you do it, you get 24 arrows (or 10 bolts). So it's pretty cheap, and it raises your smithing skill. That said, optimizing your arrow damage is much like taking points in critical shot. It won't do a heck of a lot. The archery perks only affect your bow, as do any smithing improvements on your bow. Arrows do the damage listed on the item screen, irrespective of anything else. Iron arrows always add 7 damage, steel arrows always add 10, etc.
Therefore, arrows make up the greatest percentage of total damage done at very low levels, when you have a low archery skill, few perks, and basic equipment. At the same time though, when you're in that position, you don't have the ability to craft the better arrows. Since you need the appropriate perk to make the arrows, and acquiring that perk will also allow you to craft and improve a new bow, better arrows will always offer only a marginal improvement in damage. So feel free early on to craft some steel or elven arrows to raise your smithing skill, but by the time you can start making glass and dragonbone arrows, adding a few extra points of damage per shot isn't going to mean a whole lot.
On crossbows versus bows: If all things were equal, crossbows would offer a higher damage ceiling than bows. A standard steel crossbow offers 19 base damage, only bested by a dragonbone bow. The problem is upon arrival at Dawnguard, the only crossbow you'll be able to craft is the aforementioned steel crossbow. Improved crossbows only become unlocked by discovering recipes to make them. There are three different versions - in order of improvement: Enhanced Crossbow, Dwarven Crossbow, and Enhanced Dwarven Crossbow. The enhanced versions ignore 50% of enemy armor, and the regular versions have 19 and 20 base damage respectively.
Likewise, the only base ammunition you'll be able to make are steel bolts, and later dwarven blots. However, you can also discover recipes for Exploding Dwarven Bolts of Fire, Frost, and Shock. As the name suggests, they explode doing AoE damage, along with the appropriate elemental damage (the Fire ones do lingering fire damage, the Frost ones slow enemies, and the Shock ones drain magicka). These can be crafted with one firewood, one dwarven ingot, and one Fire Salt, Frost Salt, or Void Salt, respectively, for a set of 10 bolts. These obviously increase your damage, but are quite pricey. Fire and Frost salts cost about 100 gold, and Void Salts about 200 gold, so you're talking about 10 or 20 gold per bolt, and you'll need lots of them. So with a fully upgraded enhanced dwarven crossbow firing an EDBof Fire/Frost/Shock will offer the highest damage output you can get at the end of the Dawnguard quest line. Prior to that point, the best bow you can make is likely your better option.
Recommended Perks: Armsman 5/5, Fighting Stance, Savage Strike, Dual Flurry 2/2, Dual Savagery.
Again, maximizing damage with fewest perks spent. All of the selected perks directly or indirectly increase damage except Fighting Stance, which reduces stamina cost for power attacks. All of the weapon-specific perks (Hack and Slash, Bone Breaker, Bladesman) are skipped for reasons similar to why I skipped Ciritcal Shot. In the case of Baldesman and Hack and Slash, the extra damage is calculated based on the base weapons damage, which is small in comparison to the total damage you'll deal. In the case of Bone Breaker, in order for the ignore armor affect to apply the enemy you are fighting must actually be wearing armor. Since only humanoids wear armor, it doesn't do anything against non-humanoids, including things like dragons. Furthermore, most humanoid creatures you encounter wear light armor, with a total defense typically under 100. The only time you'll see a benefit is when fighting against someone with heavy armor, and there simply aren't enough of them to justify the investment.
Critical Charge and Paralyzing Strike do work as described, but I skipped them because of the difficulty I have in actually executing the maneuver. If you're more skilled than I, Critical Charge might be worth it to you. However, even if I could do it effectively, I wouldn't take Paralyzing Stike. I'd much prefer to have the enchantment on my weapon than relying on the 25% chance of the paralysis activating during combat.
Just a couple of more notes. When dual wielding, the speed of your attack is dictated completely based on the weapon you wield in your character's left hand. The right hand doesn't factor into it at all. So fast weapon in left hand, biggest damage in right. That typically means a sword and a mace, respectively. Daggers are quicker than swords, and are a viable alternative until you start placing fortify one handed enchantments on your equipment, because daggers are uniquely unaffected by that enchantment.
Recommended Perks: Agile Defender 1/5, Custom Fit, Unhindered, Wind Walker, Deft Movement (So a point in everything except Matching Set)
I love light armor. All of the perks are useful, as opposed to Heavy Armor, where hardly any of the perks are useful. Even without investing any points in alchemy to create smithing potions to supercharge your armor's defense, you can hit the armor cap once you acquire glass smithing, which you'll have considerably earlier than being able to craft dragonscale.
There's nothing not to like about light armor. Agile Defender and Custom Fit are prerequisites for the rest of the tree, but also greatly help in getting to the armor cap. (If you elect not to invest in Light Armor, you'll need to invest much more heavily in Alchemy to get to the armor cap during mid-game.) Unhindered lets you move faster, and run forever and power attack repeatedly without running out of stamina, and Wind Walker lets you get your stamina back very quickly in the rare cases when it does happen. The advantages of Deft Movement should be self-evident.
Recommended Perks: Stealth, Backstab, Deadly Aim
Yup. Just three. Muffled Movement isn't necessary if you're willing to cast Muffle in dungeons. The spell offers 100% noise reduction as opposed to 50% from the perk, and it also levels illusion quite rapidly, resulting in a higher character level. The only way I'd take Muffled Movement is if I found pressure plate traps to be so annoying that I felt Light Foot was necessary. You also won't need the Assassin's Blade perk, for reasons I previously alluded to: Daggers don't benefit from fortify one handed enchantments. It turns out that 6X damage from a one handed weapon with fortify one handed enchantment gear is nearly identical to 15X damage from a dagger. (Backstab also benefits from the Dark Brotherhood gloves, which will raise the 6X damage to 12X.)
While Assassin's Blade is unnecessary, there are a lot of beneficial perks further up the sneak tree. Notably Silence, which allows for silent movement even when running. And Silent Roll is also a ton of fun. They aren't included in the base build because I do not feel that they are indespensible, nor do I like that they require some un-needed prerequisites in order to acquire them, but they are excellent options if you advance your character into the 50s, after the base build is complete.
Recommend Perks: Novice, Apprentice, Adept, and Expert Conjuration (Master is not needed), Mystic Binding, Soul Stealer.
Conjuration serves two purposes. The first is to have "help at command" during the tougher fights that I stated above. The second is the use of bound weapons, especially early in the game. With a perk in Novice Conjuration, you'll be able to dual cast Bound Sword (cast it in both hands, don't dual cast in the sense it's normally meant) as soon as you acquire the spell, even with base magicka. (Honestly though, if you want to be able to dual cast bound sword along with conjuring your familiar, you'll need about 150 magicka, but there's little need to go much beyond that.) Once you pick up Mystic Binding, you'll also have a pretty good early game weapon. Without the Mystic Binding perk, a bound sword has damage equivalent to a steel sword, but with the perk, it's damage is equivalent to a daedric sword. Same thing goes with the bound bow (and it fires daedric arrows to boot!). So use of bound weapons prior to getting your hands on some smithing perks is actually your best damage option, and it is also a means of quickly raising your conjuration skill in early going. (You get the most experience for casting it after being detected by an enemy, so cast it as you backpedal!)
Soul Stealer is there as a means of filling soul stones early in the game. You're going to want to work on Enchanting at every opportunity, and the limiting factor is availability of soul gems. You can buy filled ones, but the empty one are cheaper, and generally available for purchase in greater quantities, so it's both more cost effective and efficient to fill the gems yourself. Since you're going to be using bound weapons anyway until you get your smithing and/or enchanting skill high enough to start making your own weapons, it's well worth the perk investment.
As for the summons, I would recommend you rely more on atronachs than the necrmonacy spells. It's not that there's anything wrong with the necromancy spells - in fact the spells Raise Zombie and Reanimate Corpse will offer you the best melee option summons until you can cast Frost Atronach. The problem is that they both require a corpse on hand to cast them. If you've got a corpse, go for it, but a lot of times you're going to be summoning something because you didn't create a corpse upon initiating combat. So the summons that don't need a corspe are Conjure Familiar, Conjure Flame/Frost/Shock Atronach, and Dremora Lord. Generally speaking you'll want a melee summons, making the Flame and Shock Atronachs less useful, as they will attack from a distance whenever they are able. Frost Atronachs are melee, and are excellent defensive summons. Dremora Lords are tanks, and can easily go toe to toe with Draugr Overlords.
The take home message here is once you can cast Dremora Lord, you'll likely never use anything else. You're going to want to cast your lower level summons and bound swords frequently (remember you get experience only if they are cast during combat) to raise the skill. And it will raise very frequently in the early going. A combination of summons with two bound swords are worth a level in conjuration up to about skill level 40. It starts slowing down after that, but two sets of those spells usually give you a level.
Conjuration is a skill you could consider training after getting it to around 40 or 50 on your own. (You could train it earlier than that, but I find it easy to level on my own early on, so I don't prioritize it for training.) You usually want to start training it around the point where you start crafting your own weapons for use because they now offer better damage than your bound swords (although make sure you put the soul trap enchantment on these weapons). Training will help you reach level 75, which you'll need for getting expert conjuration and dremora lord. After level 75, I would not train it, as once you have dremora lord and expert conjuration, you have all you need in this skill. Conjuration will continue to level after this (you'll need about 5 combat castings of dremora lord for a level up) at a slow rate, and you'll probably get it to 100 eventually, but since you don't need anything else in conjuration, it's a low priority skill to train (especially at a cost of about 4000 a pop at those high levels).
Those are the core skills, but there are several ancillary skills that you would do well to work on too.
Recommended Perks: Light Fingers 1/5, Night Thief, Cutpurse, Extra Pockets
For reasons that have been explained in detail in other threads, there's really no good reason to NOT pickpocket train skills up to 50. Even if you don't have any interest in getting to extremely high character levels, you'll still benefit from training skills in the core build to make them better, faster.
Thie first three perks listed are needed to make pickpocket training effective, and Extra Pockets is thrown in there because it increases carrying capacity by 100, and you already have all the prerequisites, so why not.
Recommended Perks: Haggling 1/5, Allure, Merchant
And this one is an excellent candidate for early training. Many of the skill trainers you'll encounter are also merchants. Notably, all of the members of the College of Winterhold. As you'll probably want to train at least Conjuration some, it's an excellent means of selling off tons of potions to pay for the training costs. And the ability to sell any item to any merchant is the main reason for this perk and it's two prerequisites. That it also increases the number of items merchants offer, including many alchemical ingredients that won't be offered unless you have it, is just a bonus. Even if all it did was help defray training costs, I'd be in.
Recommended Perks: Enchanter 5/5, Insightful Enchanter, Corpus Enchancter, Extra Effect.
Extra Effect is so powerful. The middle path up to Extra Effect requires one fewer perk than going up the left side of the tree, and since you won't be relying heavily on elemental damage anyway, it's more beneficial as well.
The most valuable enchantment you can make while leveling is the "Banish" weapon enchantment. It should be acquired as soon as it becomes available. Merchants will start offering these items for sale once you reach character level 22. They are expensive - it may well cost you in excess of 5,000 gold to purchase a weapon with this enchantment, but it will pay for itself in short order. Even a plain old iron dagger with this enchantment will sell for around 700 gold. That means a huge profit margin even if all the base materials are purchased. Pick up every dagger you find. Buy every soul gem you can get your hands on. (Except grand - they cost about 900 gold, and will not yield a profit. It's fine to purchase them for later use on your own equipment, but don't use them for banish daggers.)
This also explains why I recommended the soul stealer perk in conjuration. Even regular plain old draugr have souls you can steal. Since iron daggers are essentially available in endless supply - just travel from town to town buying iron and leather strips - the limiting factor in maxing your enchanting skill is the number of filled soul gems you can acquire. Soul Stealer allows you to begin that process at very early levels (only requires a Conjuration skill of 30, and as a Breton you start at 25).
Recommend Perks: All the way to Dragon Armor going up the Light Armor (left) side, and Arcane Smthing.
For a while there was an argument for taking the heavy armor perks even if you intended to use light armor, because the final perk, dragon armor, allowed crafting of light and heavy armor variants, and you got the benefit of being able to craft daedric weapons, which, at the time, were the highest damage weapons in the game.
However, with the release of Dawnguard, dragonbone weapons are now the most damaging weapons. So the light side requires one fewer perk to get to dragon smithing than the heavy side, and it also allows you to actually craft and use all those armors on the way to dragon smithing. Glass smithing is available at smithing level 70 - way before you get to dragon smithing - and glass armor will allow you to hit the armor cap while simultaneously offering very satisfactory weapon damage. You will still want to get to dragon smithing for the weapon upgrades, but you'd only have to recraft your armor if you like the look of dragonscale more than glass.
One point on smithing - you will be making tons of iron daggers for the purpose of enchanitng them with banish to make tons of money. However, that is not the most efficient means of leveling your smithing skill, as you don't get very much expereince at all for making daggers. The most efficient smithing you can do from the very beginning of the game is making jewelry. It offers the biggest experience yield per craft until you start getting to the really high level stuff that you won't see early on. The way to do it is by purchasing all of a merchant's iron ore, and transmuting it into gold ore. Take the gold ore to a smelter, and make gold rings out of the ingots. You need the transmute spell to do this, and since it won't be available for sale early on, the easiest means of procuring one is by heading to Halted Stream Camp, just northwest of Whiterun. The book is always present on the table at the end of that section. There's also about a dozen iron ore veins in Halted Stream Camp, which each yield 3 units of iron ore when you mine them. There is a pickaxe just inside the mine entrance on a barrel that you can use for mining. Casting Transmute will offer a slow but steady stream of expereince in Alteration - you will level the skill several times just by transmuting the ore you got from HSC.
Other than pickpocket, the first skill you max will probably be enchanting. Not only does it provide the best source of gold, but as soon as you have it at a high level (ideally 100), you'll start making your own equipment and throw away your bound swords for good. It's worth it to just go through some basic draugr tomb - heck do the dragon stone quest - with a couple of dozen empty soul gems in your inventory just to supercharge your enchanting level. It doesn't matter if your smithing level only allows you to make elven equipment - you'll still be a powerhouse.
I would recommend the following enchantments:
Ring, Amulet, and Gloves: Fortify One Handed, Fortify Archery.
Helm: Fortify Archery and your choice (I would recommend fortify health or fortify magicka.)
Armor: both are up to you, but if all you have is Elven Armor, fortify light armor is an excellent option.
Boots: Fortify One Handed and either Fortify Carry Weight, or Fortify Sneak
Target levels for health, magicka, and stamina:
You'll need about 150 magicka fairly early to fuel your summons and bound weapons. You may want to go a bit beyond that if you want access to do thing like speed up your transmute time and such, but that's all you should really need.
I'd recommend a fairly healthy investment in stamina. Dual wielding power attacks do sap your stamina quite a bit. I usually alternate between this and health (after magicka to 150) until I get to about 250. You could even go as high as 300, but you'll eventually get access to those light armor perks, which will reduce the expenditure of stamina, and increase the rate of recovery.
Everything else goes into health. It will certainly exceed 400 by late game.
Is pretty easy. Always cast muffle and sneak when in a dungeon. If possible, attempt to snipe your targets. If you can't, or there's more than one and you're discovered, you want to get down a summons, and cast two bound swords (or later equip two swords). Snipe if you can, fight if you must. Once you get to higher levels, it will be completely your option whether or not you want to snipe of go melee - you'll be very good at both.
As a word of caution, casting bound weapons will alert nearby enemies unless you have the quiet casting perk. That's not a problem with bound swords as you're only going to be casting them in melee combat anyway. But if you are relying on your bound bow, you will risk alerting enemies to your presence. It is for this reason why you may want to carry around a regular bow with you. It's fine ro recast Bound Bow right after a battle when you just cleared the room, but if it runs out just when you're entering an unexplored area, unless you want to backtrack to out of hearing range, discretion may be called for.
I've never been detected when casting Muffle however, so feel free to cast this whenever it runs out.
Closing recommendations of where to sink additional perks if you go beyond the low 50s:
Illusion: Costs 4 perks. For Quiet Casting, and then you don't have to worry about alterting enemies when casting spells. The only downside to this option is you'd have to do it early, as being detected becomes less problematic the higher you level. (You won't still be casting bound weapons, and you can better handle yourself if you are detected.)
Alteration: Costs 5 perks for Magic Resistance 3/3. It has two prerequisite, and the perk can be selected up to 3 times (at skill level 30, 50 and 70). Each rank grants 10% increased magic resistance.
Restoration: Costs 4 perks for Recovery 2/2 (improves magicka regeneration) and Avoid Death. Strictly a defensive strategy, obviously.
Conjuration: Costs up to 9 perks. Of course, just because you don't necessarily need anything beyond a dremora lord doesn't mean you can't go beyond that. I would only recommend this strategy if you want to start using summons offensively. (With the current build, they are more strategic defense than anything.) You could even gain the ability to cast the master level spells while sacrificing very little with your other equipment selections. If you take your magicka up to about 200 instead of 150, and grab the Master Conjuration perk, you could dedicate one of the enchantment slots of your helm and your armor towards reducing the cast costs of conjuration spells. It will take nearly your entire magicka bar to summon one, but since the master level summons are permanent, there's no rush of needing to get another one out quickly. By going this route, Twin Souls is a must, and it also opens up all the necromancy spells for use as well (since they're permanent, you can always just summon them after a battle).
"I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it." - Mark Twain
Last edited by Aldeth the Foppish Idiot; Thu, 2nd Aug '12 at 3:18pm.
|Wed, 18th Jul '12, 8:05pm||#2|
I speak maths and logic, not stupid
After the explanation above, I must admit I'm beginning to see the power of Mystic Binding. While the upgraded weapons are no long term solution, they are available right when you need them the most - (almost) straight from the beginning. Much more so than Smithing at any rate!
Picking Soul Stealer to fuel Enchanting at that point is a nice bargain, since there are numerous advantages in having Enchanting shoot ahead of both Smithing and Alchemy. Especially since it allows the creation of better +alchemy and +smithing enchants to really boost the levelling of both.
Other than that - it's a refreshing change that a Conjuror, of all things, ends up being strong at any point during the game. Paired with the Ranger "class" that seems to be either hilariously OP or handicapped depending on the implementation in various games, sometimes varying even within the same franchise! (See Rangers in 2ed D&D vs 3ed D&D.) It's just one of those wonderful things that isn't readily apparent from the outset.
|Thu, 19th Jul '12, 3:03pm||#3|
Armed with My Mallet O' Thinking
Considering that you've done HSC, you should have mined and transmuted enough ore just from there to have Smithing in excess of 30 to at least be able to make Elven equipment. (I think mine was considerably higher, but I wasn't able to make glass weapons yet.) The only real question is deciding when what you can make exceeds your bound swords by a fair enough margin that you'd switch. I would never switch before picking up the soul trap enchantment, as I'd still want to be able to fill soul stones. But often times, Elven weapons (once improved) are enough of a damage increase to make the switch right then. Certainly by the time you get up to glass smithing you can greatly exceed the damage of Bound Swords.
"I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it." - Mark Twain