Follow TV Tropes

Following

Just For Fun / Skyrim Beginner's Guide

Go To

"Skyrim wants me to go the city and talk to the mayor about dragons. OK. That's kind of the point of the game: Let's get to the bottom of this dragon business.
"And yet, the very second I'm told to go somewhere, it becomes direly important that I go literally everywhere else in the world first. But like all young punks with authority problems, I'm mostly just doing it to see where the limits are. Are you going to let me walk all the way to that mountain in the distance,
Skyrim, or force me back to the quest with some bullshit invisible walls?
"Am I supposed to save this beautiful maiden,
Skyrim? All right. Is it cool if I just... don't?
"Oh, you want me to fight the usurper,
Skyrim? Sure thing, but can I buy a house and spend an hour arranging the books first?
"Unfortunately,
Skyrim's answer to every one of those questions is a firm and resounding, 'Yes. Absolutely. Go ahead and do all of those things whenever you want.'
"And that really, really, really fucking sucks."
Advertisement:

New and confused about the land of Skyrim? Don't know your Shouts from your spells? Don't see the point of alchemy? Well, wonder no longer! Below is the TV Tropes Beginner's Guide to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

For further information, please consult one of the wikis:

    open/close all folders 
Advertisement:

Game Basics

    Creating Your Character 

Choosing a Race

The first decision you make after your introductory wagon ride is picking your race, gender, and physical appearance. While you can fine-tune and sculpt the last one with pretty good detail, only the first two will have any effect on the gameplay. Skyrim features four human subraces, three types of elves, two "beast" races, and orcs (technically another type of elf). Each starts off with additional ranks in certain skills, and each has its own unique racial characteristics. Your choice will also affect certain NPC reactions who may react positively or negatively to certain races; Tamriel is a land of incredible racial diversity, but by no means do these races all live in harmony with each other. Races are as follows:
  • Altmer: The High Elves, the native people of Summerset Isle. One of the oldest races in Tamriel, the most magically-gifted and also the most refined and cultured... or so they often claim. They start with skill bonuses to several magic schools and have an innately higher Magicka. They are an obvious choice for any player who wants to be a mage, but a Magic Knight or a kind of mage-thief "Spellblade" hybrid is also a tantalizing possibility.
  • Argonian: The reptilian natives of Argonia, or Black Marsh to outsiders. Perhaps the most alien race in Tamriel, they are isolationist and hard to know and thus have been persecuted throughout their history. They start with bonuses to Lockpicking, Sneak, Light Armour and Pickpocketing, suggesting that they are suited to thief playstyles, but they also have skill with Alteration and Restoration magic. An innate disease resistance is a nice plus, and the ability to breathe underwater indefinitely offers some interesting exploration and tactical options, like diving to escape a losing fight or using Skyrim's mighty rivers for quick and relatively safe travel.
  • Bosmer: The Wood Elves, the smaller, more rustic cousins of the Altmer, hailing from Valenwood. In their home province they simple lives in harmony with nature, however outside Valenwood's borders most Bosmer live in cities and work regular jobs or as bandits, poachers and hunters on the fringes of civilisation. Bosmer are exceptional rangers and thieves thanks to bonuses to Archery, Light Armour, Sneak, Lockpicking, Pickpocket and Alchemy. They have an innate resistance to poison and disease, and they can charm an animal to fight as an ally for a time.
  • Breton: Bretons are the passionate, intelligent and eccentric people of High Rock. Though unmistakably human at first glance, their high cheekbones, slightly tapered ears and affinity for the arcane all hint at a distant elven ancestry. Bretons are skilled with a number of magic schools as well as Speech, and they have innate passive and active resistances to magic, making them highly versatile. They are fantastic mages but incorporating some warrior skills is also very effective.
  • Dunmer: The Dark Elves, the grey-skinned and red-eyed natives of the volcanic province of Morrowind. Once highly xenophobic and reviled for their practice of slavery, the recent destruction of vast swathes of Morrowind due to violent eruptions has ironically led to Dunmer refugees being subject to prejudice wherever they go. Dunmer have skills in Destruction and other schools of magic, but also Light Armour and Sneak. They have a bonus spell, Sparks, an innate resistance to fire, and the ability to summon a spectral ally for a brief time. Overall Dunmer are highly versatile and can take to warrior, thief, mage or hybrid playstyles equally well.
  • Imperial: Shrewd, pragmatic and cosmopolitan, the Imperials are a race of men from Cyrodiil who have forged no less than three empires in Tamriel's history despite lacking the clear magical or martial prowess of the other races. An Imperial is a Jack-of-All-Stats character skilled in the use of One-Handed weapons and Heavy Armour, but also Restoration, Destruction and Speech, making them fantastic for hybrid classes and able to shift gears in character development quite easily. Imperials can calm nearby humanoids for a time and also have a luck for finding coins.
  • Khajiit: Clever and agile, the Khajiit of Elswyer are a race of unusual cat-people who are relatively rare in Skyrim and treated as second-class citizens by most, widely distrusted due to their penchant for thievery and their ties to skooma, a narcotic drug illegal in the rest of the Empire. Khajiit are naturally stealthy and dexterous, making them exceptional thieves and archers, but when pushed a Khajiit will fold their ears back, bare their teeth and draw their claws; even unarmed a Khajiit is still a threat thanks to increased unarmed damage. They also have excellent night vision.
  • Nord: The natives of Skyrim and the most common race you will encounter. Nords are tall, hardy humans with fair skin and hair. Though other races consider them militant and barbaric, they also have a rich tradition for family values, spirituality and personal honour that almost comes across as admirable. Nords are skilled with both One-Handed and Two-Handed weapons, as well as Light Armour and Block; they also have skill with Smithing and Speech. Nords have an innate resistance to natural and magical frost, and can unleash a fearsome battle cry to instill fear into their enemies' hearts. Nords are fantastic warriors, barbarians, rangers or scouts.
  • Orsimer: More commonly known as the Orcs, the people of the Wrothgarian and Dragontail mountains. Orcs are stoic and war-loving in a way that even the Nords would find excessive, accustomed to hardship and misunderstood by all. In Skyrim, Orcs are found either in destitute strongholds preserving their harsh way of life far from civilisation, or living in cities plying their trade as blacksmiths, mercenaries and petty thugs. Orcs truly excel as warriors, with skills in One-Handed and Two-Handed weapons, Heavy Armour, Block, Smithing and Enchanting. They can also fly into a Berserker Rage to inflict more and receive less damage.
  • Redguard: A dark-skinned, wiry-haired and muscular race of men from the great desert province of Hammerfell. The Redguards are some of the most naturally talented warriors in all Tamriel and many of Tamriel's greatest swordsmen were of this race. Fiercely independent, lovers of adventure and born under the sail, Redguards take to the life of a wanderer or sellsword like a fish to water. They have a mixed bag of skills like One-Handed weapons, Archery and Block alongside Smithing, Destruction and Alteration, and an ability that allows them to recover stamina quickly, so they excel as warriors or hybrid characters combining the magical and martial.

The combination of starting skills and racial traits makes each race naturally inclined towards a certain playstyle. Thus, players looking forward to close combat may want to pick a Nord, Redguard, or Orc, aspiring mages may prefer playing a Breton, Altmer, or Dunmer, while sneaky or archer types may want to be a Bosmer, Khajiit, Argonian, or Imperial. Of course, nothing's stopping you from being an Orc mage or High Elf barbarian, and these starting bonuses will become less significant as you continue to level. Ultimately, you can create a strong character regardless of your race or playstyle, and picking one race over another won't lock you out of any quests or anything, so choose however you want.

Choosing a Class (or Not...)

Skyrim doesn't have conventional character classes; instead, you develop your character much more organically. Simply doing things like attacking enemies, casting spells, mixing potions, buying from/selling to merchants, or even getting hit while wearing armor all occasionally give you a notification that you've increased the relevant skill. You can also take up to five training sessions per level in skills from certain NPCs, but this will cost you plenty of gold.

Increase any skill(s) enough, and your overall character level will increase, giving you a perk point to spend in a skill's perk tree to unlock an associated ability or bonus. Perks can give you a flat bonus to damage dealt with particular weapon types, the ability to sneak effectively without having to tiptoe, discounts on the Magicka cost of certain spells, the knowledge to craft armor and weapons out of rare ores, and much more. Some are less useful than others (the Lockpicking and Speech trees are particularly derided), but there's nothing stopping you from dabbling in Alchemy as a moneymaking scheme and sinking those perk points you earned from it into the Destruction tree. You also don't have to spend a perk the instant you gain it, and can save it for when a skill has increased enough to unlock a perk you have your eye on.
You can really play any character concept you want, and adapt on the fly to become something else quite easily. Do you want to combine physical combat with Restoration magics to be a kind of paladin character, or with Destruction to be a Magic Knight who slings spells and swings swords with equal ease? Perhaps you want to become a spellblade who uses Illusion magics to supplement your stealth? Do you want to be a fighter but take up Enchantment to forge your own magical weapons and armour?

Health, Magicka, and Stamina

Beyond earning perks, each time your character level increases, you're given a choice to increase your Health, Magicka, or Stamina. These are your only three real stats; everything else about your character is covered by the aforementioned skills and perks. Health determines how much punishment you can take before you keel over; simple enough. Magicka is used to cast spells, but is also drained if you take electricity damage. Stamina is used to sprint, make power attacks, and means you can haul more loot, but it's also drained if you take frost damage.

All three will slowly regenerate based on a percentage of your total amount of the stat (and will be faster if you're not in combat), though with the right magic spells, potions, or enchantments, you can recover them much more quickly. There are some important exceptions: Vampires cannot regenerate Health, Magicka or Stamina in sunlight, while Werewolves in wolf form cannot regenerate Health (at least not passively) and cannot access their magic.

As mentioned previously, each time you level up, you can to choose to increase one of these statistics, and which one will probably depend on what kind of character you're playing as. Warrior types will want to focus on increasing their Health first and foremost, but shouldn't neglect their Stamina so they'll be able to make those power attacks or close with enemies attacking at range. Mages will want plenty of Magicka, but will need to invest in at least some Health so they'll be able to survive in the event an enemy closes with them. Archers or Thieves may want to prioritize Health to offset their traditionally light armor, but stealthy illusionists can use Magicka, while Thieves may appreciate the increased carrying capacity afforded by more Stamina.

    Melee Combat 
The mechanics of close combat are straightforward: one button swings, and you can press and hold it to make a power attack at a cost of Stamina. The other button blocks, and if you attack while blocking, you bash at the enemy to interrupt an attack or spell.

Weapons come in two sizes - One-Handed and Two-Handed - as well as three types, each with their own characteristics. Swords are quick but do the least damage, hammers and maces are slow but painful, while axes provide a happy medium between the two extremes. You can specialize in one type of weapon with the right perks, so that your mace strikes ignore a portion of the enemy's armor or your swipes with a battleaxe cause bleeding damage, or you can put your perks into improving your general effectiveness with all One- or Two-Handed weapons and use whatever type is available; it's up to you.

Now, you've only got two hands, so you need to put some thought into how you're using them.

Fighting with a Two-Handed weapon means that you'll dish out a lot of damage, but your attacks will be slow, so you'll need to make them count. This also means that you'll have a harder time defending yourself, and while it's possible to block or counter with a Two-Handed weapon, it's less effective than if you'd been using a proper shield.

Fighting with a One-Handed weapon and shield gives you the most defense, and allows you to fully take advantage of Block perks that let you ignore damage from arrows and resist elemental attacks if you have your shield up. You won't be able to end fights as quickly, but you'll have an easier time surviving as you close with enemy archers or mages.

Fighting with a pair of One-Handed weapons (known as "Dual Wielding") completely removes your ability to block; that button instead makes you attack with your off-hand. In combat, you're a dervish of destruction, and can take advantage of One-Handed perks that let you attack with a flurry of blows... but you'd better have good armor, quick reflexes, or a good supply of potions.

Finally, you can fight with a One-Handed weapon and use your free hand to cast spells. Ward spells (see the Restoration section of the "Spellcasting" folder) are more effective at blocking enemy magic than a shield, or maybe you just like to shoot lightning in between swings.

Whatever you choose—One-Handed or Two-Handed, shield or no shield, Dual-Wielding or spell, etc.—it's better to stick with one style than it is to split your skills and perks. Someone who has mastered a greatsword can do more with a basic version of one than someone with a magic greatsword who has only dabbled in Two-Handed weapons.

What About Daggers?

Daggers aren't so much for fighting with as they are for murdering with. Though fast, a dagger deals the least damage of all melee weapons, except when combined with certain perks in the Sneak tree. With the Assassin's Blade perk, a humble dagger does a whopping 15x damage when used with a sneak attack, though this of course requires you to creep up upon your victim. If your backstabber has been spotted, you may want to switch to a larger weapon to defend yourself, or else try to hide until things get quiet and you can go back to slitting throats.

Unarmed Combat

Hand-to-hand combat is no longer a distinct skill in Skyrim, and default unarmed damage is a measly 10 points, but it's still a viable combat style. Argonians and Khajiit get a +6 and +12 bonus, respectively, to unarmed damage, but to properly punch people, you're going to need a good pair of gauntlets and some Heavy Armor skill. The Fists of Steel perk lets your gauntlets deal additional damage based on their armor rating, and this can further be enhanced with the Fortify Unarmed enchantment, acquired from the Gloves of the Pugilist dropped by an enemy in the Riften Ratway. It takes a bit of effort to pull off, but there's something to be said about being able to truly punch dragons to death.

    Ranged Combat 
Archery, in other words; magic will be covered later.

Firing a bow isn't too complicated: you hold the attack button to draw the string back and release to fire, and the longer you hold it back, the further and harder the arrow will fly. Hitting something with a bow can take a bit of practice, especially at long range, as you get used to how much the arrow drops in flight. Perks can make this easier, and with both the Eagle Eye and Steady Hand perks, you can zoom in and slow time while aiming.

Archery damage is a combination of the bow's base damage, the quality of arrow you're using, and your Archery skill. You can further enhance this by improving a bow at a grindstone (don't think about it too much), finding or (if you have Dawnguard) crafting superior arrows, enchantments, and firing while Sneaking, especially with the Deadly Aim perk. Low-quality arrows can be commonly found on bandit archers, you can make your own as mentioned before, and you can additionally take the Hunter's Discipline perk to have a better chance of recovering and reusing arrows from your kills.

Starting the Dawnguard main questline will give you access to crossbows, and it's important to note the differences between them and regular bows. On the upside, crossbows hit harder, are quicker to fire, their bolts travel faster, you can craft alchemical bolts, and enemies hit will be staggered half the time. On the downside, crossbows are slower to reload than bows, much louder, more expensive, and are harder to use at long range. As usual, the right investment of perks can mitigate these drawbacks, so the choice is a matter of personal preference.

Archery lends itself well to a sneaky playstyle (you may have heard of the "Stealth Archer" archetype), as you can peek out of cover, snipe an unaware target, and duck back out of sight before the missile hits. But even a primarily melee combatant may want to carry a bow and some arrows, if only to make you feel less helpless when a dragon is strafing you with its fire breath.

    Armor 
Choosing what to wear as you adventure in Skyrim is about more than what mail is fashionable this season. There's a good range of armors in the game, from leather to steel plate to more esoteric stuff like Ebony or Dragonbone, but all can be categorized into one of two types: Heavy or Light. Heavy Armor has the highest armor rating, but you move slowly and burn through more Stamina in it, and simply wearing the stuff will take up a good portion of your maximum carrying capacity. Light Armor is much easier to move in and less noisy when you're trying to sneak, but offers less protection.

This means that a traditional frontline combatants will probably want to wear Heavy Armor, while sneaky or skirmishing types tend to wear Light Armor. But all of the aforementioned disadvantages can be mitigated with the right perks, enchantments, or magic, so it's quite possible to creep about in full plate, or enhance a suit of scale armor so that it offers as much protection as steel.

The mechanics behind calculating your armor rating are complicated, but work out to (roughly) a 0.12% damage reduction per armor point. There is also a possible "hidden" armor rating of +100 (+25 for each wearable piece), but the bottom line is that armor's effectiveness caps at an 80% reduction in damage at an armor rating of 567 (or 667); higher numbers are shown, but provide no additional protection.

It's very important to note that this only applies to physical damage, not magical or elemental attacks. The exception is armor that has been enchanted to resist fire, frost, lightning, or all magical attacks.

Mage Armor

While it's possible to play as an armored spellcaster, most mages prefer to do without. This is because a set of Robes of Destruction, for example, offers a better discount to the Magicka cost of those spells and a better bonus to the mage's Magicka regeneration than the same enchantment would if it were placed on a suit of armor. To compensate, mages have access to Alteration magic like Oakflesh or Ironflesh that give them comparable protection; the fact that there are Alteration perks that increase the effectiveness of such spells when the caster is unarmored gives them even more incentive to stick to robes.

Magic Resistance

As noted above, normal armor does squat against magic; for that, you're going to need various resistances. The ability to resist magic damage and effects comes in five delicious flavors:

  • Shock, Fire and Frost Resistance only reduce damage from one element each with a cap of 80-85% resistance possible.
  • Resist Magic resists all three with the bonus of also reducing the duration of other hostile spells like Paralyze. Like the elemental resistances, Resist Magic has a cap of 80-85%.
  • Absorb Spells is not strictly a resistance, but gives you a percent chance of absorbing a spell, completely cancelling its effects and adding to your Magicka stores. Absorb Spells is not capped and can reach over 100%.

Elemental resistance (shock, frost, and fire) are relatively common and can be enchanted yourself when learned. Certain Dragon Priest Masks offer good protection in this area, especially those from the Dragonborn DLC. Nords and Dunmer start with 50% elemental resistance to frost and fire, respectively.

Resist Magic is harder to come by and harder to enchant powerful versions for yourself. Bretons naturally resist magic by 25%. The Lord Stone also adds 25% Magic Resistance. See also "Agent of Mara" and the Restoration perks "Magic Resistance."

Absorb Spells cannot be learned for enchanting and only comes from four sources: the Atronach Stone, the Alteration perk 'Atronach', the armor of the Dragonborn main antagonist Miraak, and the Breton special ability. Wards can also absorb magic with a perk, but require constant power flow to use.

Advertisement:

    Spellcasting 
What you use your Magicka for. Spells are learned from spellbooks you can find on your adventures or purchase from court mages or general goods vendors, though for the best stuff, you'll want to enroll at the College of Winterhold. Once learned, you "equip" a spell in a hand and cast it more or less like firing a bow. With the right perks, you can equip a spell in both hands to Dual-Cast it, making it more powerful. Who said magic had to be complicated?

There are five very different schools of magic in the game, each offering their own advantages:

Alteration

Possibly the least flashy and hardest to level, but still useful. Spells like Stoneflesh grant the caster additional armor, especially if they're a mage in a robe, while the school also has "utility" spells like Candlelight, Detect Life, and Waterbreathing, that just about anyone can use. High-level Alteration mages can learn the Paralysis spell, temporarily leaving foes completely at your mercy.

Since Alteration magic doesn't actually deal any damage in itself, you're pretty much required to use some other means to subdue your foes while enjoying its protection.

Level-Up Tip

Detect Life increases the amount of experience gained based on the number of living things detected. Try using it in big cities with cost-reducing enchanted equipment after sleeping. Get used to casting spells like Oakflesh just before you enter combat. While rare, the Telekinesis spell (a guaranteed drop in a few locations, mainly from expansions) levels up Alteration at lightning speed; just keep an eye on your Magicka.

Conjuration

Magic that calls someone else to fight with (or for) you. What this "someone" is depends on your spell; some conjure Atronachs that deal elemental damage, usually at range, while another branch is good old-fashioned Necromancy, animating the corpses of your fallen enemies to fight at your side. High-level conjurers can stroll through a dungeon, looting at their leisure while powerful Dremora or undead Revenants clear the place for them. A third type of Conjuration spell is more specialized, and creates a powerful magical weapon you can wield, if you don't feel like leveling Enchanting and Smithing.

It's difficult to "main" Conjuration magic until you reach high levels with it, as Flame Atronachs or basic Zombies are quickly overwhelmed if confronted by more than one enemy, but conversely, just about any playstyle can benefit from this sort of magic. Destruction mages appreciate an additional source of elemental damage or a disposable "tank", melee types can summon an Atronach to counter enemy archers while they cut their way to them, and sneaky types can slip away while their enemies deal with a summoned ally.

Level-Up Tip

Rapidly attacking with summoned weapons and using a summoned creature at the same time can increase experience faster.

Destruction

Straightforward offensive magic. Destruction magic comes in three elemental flavors: Fire attacks that do extra damage to targets already burning, Lightning attacks that hurt and also drain a rival mage's magicka, and Frost attacks that hurt and drain the target's stamina so it's harder for that warrior to charge you. Low-level Destruction spells are short-ranged "flamethrower" type attacks, then you learn a long-ranged "bolt," and at mid-level you gain an attack that can hit multiple foes at once. The highest-level Destruction spells at least look impressive, even if their charge-up time makes them situational at best. For variety, a Destruction mage can also cast Rune spells that act as magical proximity mines, or make a temporary wall of elemental energy.

Destruction magic is not only the straightforward way for a mage to kill an enemy, but a good way to keep them away from you. The Impact perk allows Dual-Cast spells to stagger enemies, preventing them from advancing as long as you can keep the pressure on them. There is one big caveat about Destruction magic, however: it doesn't scale as you increase your skill at it. Instead, a Firebolt spell will always deal a set amount of damage, which you can only improve with a Perk or a temporary potion effect. This makes endgame Destruction combat a matter of stunlocking a single target and chipping away at its health, so if you're playing Skyrim on the PC, it's highly recommended that you find a mod to fix this design oversight.

Level-Up Tip

A horse you own will most likely not turn hostile if attacked; alternate between damaging it with Destruction spells and healing it with Restoration spells as necessary to level both at once (Yes, it's cruel, but then, so is Skyrim).

Illusion

Subtle magic. Illusion spells don't deal damage directly, but can fill a follower with courage and increase his/her combat effectiveness, calm a bear so it doesn't attack, or compel a bandit to attack his comrades in a berserk fury. Stealthy players may also be interested in Illusion spells that muffle their movement or hide them, and a high-level Illusionist can sneak right through a dungeon, staying silent and invisible, or sending all the enemies inside on a fratricidal rampage, depending on tastes.

Like Alteration, Illusion spells don't deal damage in themselves, so you'll need some way to deal with those enemies you've hit with a Fear spell before they snap out of it and get back to killing you. But if you synergize this spell school with the Sneak skill, you can make your enemies do the work for you, and hit them with Fury effects from hiding so that they attack each other without ever spotting you, allowing you to mop up the survivor. It's also important to note that without a high-level perk, Illusion spells have no effect on the undead or Dwemer constructs.

Level-Up Tip

Muffle is available fairly early on and adds a significant level of experience every time you cast it, not just in combat or near threats.

Restoration

Magic just about every character may need at some point, especially if they don't stock up on potions. Restoration is mainly about healing yourself or other characters, decreasing the amount of time you spend waiting for your health to recover between fights, or even allowing you to bounce back from the brink in the middle of a pitched battle. Other Restoration spells target the undead, and can drive them away or prevent them from closing with you; certainly something to consider given the number of draugr-haunted ruins in Skyrim. Finally, Ward spells create a protective shield that can be used to deflect or even absorb hostile magic, though this risks draining your own Magicka quickly.

As a school of magic dedicated to healing, it goes without saying that you need to combine your Restoration skill with something else to actually defeat your enemies, although if you have a strong fighter as a follower, you could always play healbot and hide behind them with Healing Hands while they do all the work.

Level-Up Tip

Healing other grants more experience than healing yourself.

    Shouts 
Shouts, the manly magic. The power of the Thu'um is quite different from spells in that Shouts need no Magicka to use, you can cast (yell) them with your hands full, and you don't learn them from books. Some NPCs will teach you Shouts to advance the plot, but in most cases you have to discover them for yourself by finding the Word Walls scattered across Skyrim. Simply knowing a Shout isn't enough to use it; you have to unlock its words by spending dragon souls you've absorbed.

Each Shout is comprised of three Words of Power, and the more you know and use, the more powerful the Shout is: Fus will stagger a foe for a moment, while Fus Ro Dah will launch them away from you. Once you've used a Shout, you'll need some time before you can use another. The cooldown period varies by the Shout and how many words you use, from only 5 seconds after using one word of Clear Skies all the way up to 10 minutes after a full Storm Call. You can decrease this recharge time by praying at a shrine to Talos and/or wearing an Amulet of Talos.

As mentioned before, you learn most Shouts from Word Walls, and these are commonly found at either the bottom of Nordic Ruins or in high places where dragons like to roost. Once you've met the Greybeards, you can also ask them if they've heard the whispers of a new word for you to learn. Finally, if for any reason you use a Shout in a populated area, you might get a letter from "A Friend" telling you where you can learn another Word of Power.

Listing all the Shouts available would be redundant given the wiki links at the top of the page, but here's some of the game's "must-have" Shouts:

  • Unrelenting Force: Blasts enemies away from you. Not only is this perhaps the best Shout in the game, it's also the first Shout you unlock, and the one you fully upgrade about a third of the way through the main quest. You can further enhance it by meditating on Fus with the Greybeards' leader, as well as by selecting the "Dragonborn Force" reward earned mid-way through Dragonborn's main quest. The only downside is that it doesn't do much against dragons beside jostle them for a second, and the larger Dwemer robots are likewise resistant.
  • Marked for Death: Drains affected foes' armor and health for 60 seconds, making them much easier to defeat. The words for this Shout are found in the Forsaken Cave, on the road west from Windhelm (and the target of a quest given by the city's alchemist); Autumnwatch Tower, south of Ivarstead in the western Rift; and the Dark Brotherhood Sanctuary, which means that you'll have to deal with that organization one way or another.
    Important Note: Marked for Death's armor-reducing effect is permanent due to a programming oversight, so if you don't have one of the unofficial patches, don't hit one of your followers with this.
  • Aura Whisper: A quiet "Shout" that acts like a superior Detect Life spell, and even lets you see Falmer or Dwemer constructs before they pop out of their hiding places. Also terrific for finding NPCs in large buildings. The words for it are found at Northwind Summit, a mountain northwest of Shor's Stone in the Rift; Valthume, a Nordic tomb southeast of Markarth; and Volunruud, another Nordic crypt north-by-northwest of Whiterun which you visit during the Dark Brotherhood questline (though you don't need to be at that point in the Brotherhood's storyline to get at the Word, nor is the Word required to advance the story beyond that).
  • Throw Voice: A useful and sometimes amusing Shout for sneaky types, which causes any unaware enemies to investigate a spot you designate. Unlike any other Shout, all three words for this one are at a single Word Wall at Shearpoint, a mountaintop northeast of Whiterun. However, not only is there usually a dragon roosting there, but also a Dragon Priest, one of the most powerful enemies in the game. Try not to fight both of them at once.
  • Dragon Aspect: Usable only once per day, but gives you a dragon aura buffing your melee attacks, armor, and Shouts. You learn two words over the course of Dragonborn's main quest, and the third can be found in Bloodskaal Barrow, accessed through Raven Rock's mine. Note that it can be difficult getting the dragon souls to unlock this Shout during Dragonborn due to Miraak stealing them, so it's wise to stock up on souls before embarking for Solstheim.

    Illness 
While not a major problem, diseases can be inconvenient for lower level players. With the exception being Sanguinare Vampiris, which turns you into a vampire in three in-game days, all the others just cause minor stat and ability penalties.

Diseases can be caught from animal attacks, vampires, traps, monsters, or drinking from a certain bloody spring.

Diseases can be cured by praying at shrines of the Divines, getting blessings from certain priests, wandering Vigilants of Stendarr, Cure Disease potions, and if you have Hearthfire, garlic bread.

Argonians and Bosmer have a 50% resistance to disease, while vampires and werewolves (both forms) are 100% resistant (bugs notwithstanding).

Moving Forward

    Questing in Skyrim 
After your execution gets derailed and you fight your way out of Helgen, whoever helped you flee suggests you split up, and suddenly, all of Skyrim is open to you. So, what do you do next?

Whatever you want, obviously! We get that if you're new to the Wide Open Sandbox genre, the massive world can be intimidating, or like it says in the page quote, even paralyzing due to the minimal guidance and almost complete lack of urgency from the game itself. That said, there are several craploads of things out there to occupy your time with; even just wandering aimlessly around Skyrim will eventually lead you to some enemy or dungeon to deal with.

Here is just some of what Skyrim has to offer:

The Main Quest

Whether or not you ignore Ralof or Hadvar's suggestion to split up and instead follow them from Helgen to Riverwood, if you visit the village, you'll meet NPCs who ask you to bring word of the dragon attack to the Jarl of Whiterun. Before long, you'll discover your identity as the Dragonborn and begin an adventure spanning the length and breadth of Skyrim as you learn about the dragons' return and how to combat them.

The advantage of doing the main quest as soon as possible is that you'll gain access to Shouts, including some particularly powerful and useful plot-relevant Shouts, as well as Breezehome, one of the most popular housing options in the game. The downside is that once you become an official Dragonborn, dragons will start regularly appearing as enemies, and depending on your character, they can be quite a challenge; thieves in particular can have problems since it's hard to land a sneak attack on a flying dragon. Some players prefer to delay the main quest until they get their footing, and others ignore it entirely in order to play as a "normal" adventurer.

The Skyrim Civil War

You're introduced to the civil war wracking Skyrim right at the start, and it's a testament to the game's writing that you can find convincing arguments for joining both sides of the conflict. Regardless of whether you pick a side or stay neutral, the civil war and the main quest have the potential to interrupt each other if you neglect one for too long over the other: either Jarl Balgruuf will refuse to treat with your side until you help him investigate the dragons, or refuse to volunteer his castle's services in the game's third act until you end the conflict either by force or by negotiating a ceasefire.

If you choose to get involved, whether by going to Solitude to join the Legion or Windhelm to join the Stormcloaks, you can expect a solo mission to prove yourself, followed by a variety of missions with your fellow soldiers. You will recover an important artifact from a tomb, participate in the siege of Whiterun, help capture forts, undertake covert missions to gather intelligence or meet with contacts, and finally fight a decisive battle to take the rival capital. The material rewards aren't that impressive, honestly, save for the opportunity to purchase a house in Windhelm (see "Getting a House" below), but if you feel strongly about the civil war, it's satisfying to help your side win it.

Just be warned that there is no Golden Ending to the war. Can you live with kicking Jarl Balgruuf, the most reasonable of authority figures, out of his castle to hand it to the Stormcloaks? Or would it be harder to stomach helping the Imperials give control of Riften to an untouchable criminal mastermind like Maven Black-Briar?

Guilds

Skyrim has several factions that players of certain playstyles will naturally fit into, offering like-minded followers to quest with, a place to sleep and safely keep your things, and great rewards. Beyond a questline associated with that guild, your contacts there will regularly have other missions for you, ensuring that there's always something to do.

Warriors can travel to Whiterun and join the Companions, a legendary band of sellswords. Becoming a Companion gives you access to a unique set of heavy armor and Skyforge Steel courtesy of the nearby Skyforge. Also, and without going into too much detail, doing quests for the Companions is the only way for your character to contract lycanthropy and become a werewolf.

Mages will want to enroll in the College of Winterhold, Skyrim's only school for wizardry. This gives you access to master trainers in half of the schools of magic (along with expert trainers in the rest), and is the only way to get the most powerful spells in the game. You can also get your hands on the best set of mage robes at the end of the questline, as well as a unique magic staff.

Thieves should head to Riften, where you're sure to be approached by someone hoping a new recruit will help reverse the fortunes of the local Thieves' Guild. Joining is the best way to make larceny profitable, as completing quests for it will recruit fences across Skyrim that are the only people who will buy stolen goods. You're also given a uniform with a lot of useful enchantments on it very early on, and can eventually get another set of armor suited for stealthy combat.

Those who tread a darker path may want to travel to Windhelm, where someone is attempting to hire the services of an assassin. If you attract the attention of the Dark Brotherhood, you'll be able to get your hands on a suit of armor that maximizes your ability to backstab your victims. Joining this family of killers will let you profit the most from your murderous talents, and perhaps even shape the course of history. Or if you're of the more noble upstanding variety of player, you can choose to reject their recruitment offer and wipe out the Dark Brotherhood once and for all.

Visit the Holds

Most of the hold capitals in Skyrim have a questline associated with them. Some of them are simple, like shutting down a skooma operation in Riften, while others can involve multiple quests and long dungeon crawls, such as delving into Solitude's bloody history. These quests are a great way of getting the attention of the local Jarl, and completing them is an important step towards being able to buy property in the hold.

Talk to NPCs

What with the civil war, rampant banditry, hostile wildlife, and now dragons, the people of Skyrim have a lot of problems. Just walking from the gates of Whiterun to Dragonsreach, you may come across a blacksmith who would like you to make a delivery to the Jarl's steward, an old lady whose son is missing-in-action, a former mercenary whose father's sword is in the hands of bandits, a fruit vendor who wants a bard to stop pestering her, a priestess who needs help reviving a sacred tree, an aspiring innkeeper who needs a mammoth tusk to trade with the Khajiit, and a beggar who wants you to steal some booze from the local tavern. Doing such tasks, in addition to the "main" quest(s) of the hold you're in, is also part of how you become its Thane, giving you the perks of a title and a housecarl to order around.

Radiant Quests

One of the simplest ways to find something to do is to ask an innkeeper if they have any work for you. Skyrim's radiant quest system means that there's always a bandit leader, giant, or dragon somewhere that the local Jarl has put a bounty on, making this not only a way to stay occupied, but make some money. If an innkeeper runs out of missions for you, it's probably time to move on to the next Hold.

Daedric Quests

A handful of quests are tied to the Daedric Princes, and reward you with special, unique artifacts that cannot be obtained otherwise. The artifacts themselves vary widely in function and applicability, but are definitely worth scouring for.

Some particularly valuable Artifacts include:
  • Azura's Star/The Black Star: A reusable Grand/Black Soul Gem, this lets you enchant items without having to go looking for additional Soul Gems. Exactly which artifact you get depends on how you complete the quest (something to keep in mind is that the less-powerful Azura's Star option also gives you a potential follower), but in any case, you must visit the Shrine of Azura, high in the mountains south of Winterhold, to find it.
  • Masque of Clavicus Vile: Gives you 20% better prices, a 10-point Speech skill boost, and 5% Magicka regeneration boost. To get it, talk to the blacksmith in Falkreath about a dog after hitting level 10.
  • Oghma Infinium: Gives you a one-time increase of five levels in all of either your Warrior, Thief, or Magic skills. Unlike other Daedric Artifacts, the quest for this one is tied into the main questline (and Dawnguard as well) and must be started at some point to advance it, though it can't be completed until after you hit level 15.
  • Ring of Hircine/Savior's Hide: The possible rewards for the quest "Ill Met By Moonlight", started in Falkreath. The former allows unlimited werewolf transformations per day, making it a must-have for werewolf characters (see "Lycanthropy" below), while the latter comes with 15% resistance to magic and 50% resistance to poisons, making it a very valuable Light Armor piece. While ostensibly you can get only one or the other, a Good Bad Bug allows for obtaining both, unless you have the unofficial patches mod.
  • Mehrunes' Razor: An essential for any assassin, this legendary dagger carries just under a 2% chance to insta-kill anyone you attack it with. To obtain it, visit a museum in Dawnstar after reaching level 20.
  • Dawnbreaker: The bane of all things undead, this sword carries a Fire enchantment and a chance to cause a fiery explosion that either disintegrates undead or causes them to flee from battle, something that comes in real handy when you're fighting draugr or vampires. Obtained after completing the quest "The Break of Dawn", which can be started as low as level 12, but due to the difficulty level of the dungeon you need to clear, it's recommended to be closer to level 24 before you go for it.
  • Spellbreaker: A unique Dwemer shield that puts up its own Ward spell when used. Gained from completing the quest "The Only Cure", started at the Shrine to Peryite, northeast of Markarth in The Reach, after reaching level 10 or 12.

Dawnguard

If you have the DLC installed, you'll start hearing about the Dawnguard once you hit level 10. The expansion has a long and complex questline that gives you the choice of siding with the eponymous vampire hunters or becoming a Vampire Lord in the service of Castle Volkhar. Either way gives you access to a stronghold with unique equipment and purchasable animal companions, an array of side missions, access to the Soul Cairn, new Shouts, and powerful loot at the end of an extremely long adventure through an expansive region. Plus, unless you get a mod to turn them off, hostile vampires have a chance of attacking towns at night until you complete the story.

Dragonborn

This expansion becomes available after you've met with the Greybeards for the first time, and strange cultists accuse you of being a "false Dragonborn." Investigating them leads you to the island of Solstheim, perhaps the most content-rich area in the game, filled with riches, unique weapons and armor, powerful new Shouts, and potent abilities granted by the ominous Black Books. Uncovering these treasures can be challenging, however, and to make the most of the options to enhance your Shouts, you'll want as many Words for Unrelenting Force, Fire Breath, and Frost Breath as possible. You may also want to stock up dragon souls before traveling to the island since it's hard to get them there, and focus on acquiring Severin Manor (see the section on Houses below) as soon as possible so you can store you treasures without having to travel to and from Skyrim each time your inventory gets full.

    Dungeoneering 
There are plenty of bandit camps, animal lairs, and undead-haunted graveyards dotting Skyrim's landscape, but at some point, your adventures will take you indoors and/or underground. Dungeons can be divided into several broad categories, each with their own dangers and incentives for braving them:

Nordic Ruins

You'll spend much of the game in these places, easily distinguished by their architecture, as well as all the bones and sarcophagi since they're usually burial crypts. As such, you can expect to fight a lot of draugr, who like to pop out of said sarcophagi. These tombs feature traps and puzzles to hinder intruders, and tend to culminate in a "boss" encounter with a tough undead monster like the Dragon Priests, but they have plenty of treasure and almost always a Word Wall to learn a new Shout from.

Dwemer Ruins

These complexes of dark corridors and hissing pipes are maintained by dangerous mechanical constructs that have outlived their creators by centuries. Blacksmiths and enchanters will want to brave them regardless, since said constructs frequently drop ore and Soul Gems, and the ruins themselves are filled with Dwemer scrap that can be melted down at a smelter into ingots of Dwarven metal. Dwemer ruins are known for sadistic, yet highly-visible traps that even amateur explorers can easily spot. This is because Dwemer Ruins often overlap with...

Falmer Lairs

Chitinous structures and grisly fetishes mark the territory of these degenerate creatures, whether they be natural caves, Dwemer ruins, or complexes containing both. The Falmer are dangerous due to their numbers, Chaurus allies, and use of poison, but the latter means that alchemists will find plenty of reagents and potions on their enemies. Stealthy characters will be able to make the most of the Falmer's blindness, and may in certain cases be able to provoke a Dwemer ruin's construct guardians to attack its Falmer squatters.

Bandit Hideouts

Brigands are everywhere in Skyrim, and can be found lurking in caves or occupying mines and ruins. Their camps are distinguished by the amount of mundane items in them, sometimes junk like carrots and flour, other times trade goods like ingots or waylaid shipments of wine. They're probably the least dangerous of the game's dungeons, and at most some have a few tripwires or trapped treasure chests to keep you on your toes.

Wizard Covens

Renegade spellcasters can be found in many of the same places as bandits, and can prove quite challenging whether they're elemental casters or necromancers. Alchemical reagents and arcane paraphernalia are common in these hideouts, making them a good way for a mage to pick up some new spells. That said, the value-to-weight ratio of all those magical robes and scrolls means that these can be the most lucrative dungeons to plunder regardless of your character archetype. Just stay on your toes if you turn out to be going up against necromancers; they like to reanimate each other from surprising distances.

Vampire Lairs

These are rarer, can be found everywhere from caves to old forts (though dark places are preferred, obviously), and can be thought of as a combination of a Bandit Hideout and Wizard Coven. Vampires are often dangerous spellcasters, and have access to both mortal thralls and monsters like death hounds and gargoyles for melee combat. On the bright side, the loot found in such sites is usually just as good if not better than what can be found in a wizard's lair.

Animal Lairs

The most mundane and least lucrative of dungeon types are caves inhabited by beasts such as bears, spiders, or trolls. These foes can be dangerous, but the only treasure found is what previous explorers brought with them. That said, the monsters' pelts and parts can be useful to blacksmiths and alchemists, and sometimes there are ore veins to tap as well.

General Dungeon Tips:

  • Bring a light source; dungeons can be dark and you don't want to miss that pressure plate or treasure chest. A torch will do in most cases, though this will take up one of your hands and will eventually go out (though not if a follower is holding it). The Candlelight spell frees up your hands and will function underwater, but you'll have to regularly re-cast it, and since you can't turn it off early, it can be a liability if you're trying to be sneaky.
  • Bring plenty of lockpicks, so you won't have to remember to revisit a ruin you cleared just to take another crack at a lock.
  • Try to enter carrying only as much as you need, so you can take as much with you as possible when you leave.
  • Some basic division skills will help you loot most efficiently. That heavy suit of armor may have a three digit sell price, but you could make more money carrying an equivalent amount of leather boots and bracers. For this reason, potions, wines, spell books, scrolls, and robes are, generic gold-for-unspecified weight measurement, the most valuable objects in the game.
  • Always inspect a door or treasure chest for a trigger wire before trying to open it.
  • Go slow and low. Even if you aren't a thief type, moving through a dungeon in sneak mode means you have the best chances of spotting a trap before triggering it.

    Getting Around 
Something you may notice fairly quickly is that Skyrim is kind of big. While it is perfectly possible to complete everything the game has to offer on your own two feet, sometimes you may want to get around quicker.

Fast Travel

This is done on the game's map screen. Simply clicking on a location you've already discovered will send you there immediately, though time will still pass in-game based on how long it thinks it would have taken you to get there. This means that, in some instances, you may want to sprint cross-country for a few minutes so you can make it back home before the shops close, if the game decides you would have taken the slow route.

Carriages and Boats

In contrast to Oblivion, you can't fast-travel to the major cities in Skyrim right off the bat; you have to have visited them first. But there are carriages for hire outside the walls of Skyrim's major holds that will take you to hold capitals for a small fee, which may be attractive to low-level mages wanting to reach the College of Winterhold without getting mauled by wildlife along the way. You may also find sailors in Skyrim's ports who offer a similar service, though obviously they're more limited in where they can take you.

Horses

Fast. Reliable. Physics-defying. Horses can be purchased at the major Holds' stables, and will be automatically stored there if you enter the settlement. They are kind of expensive for a low-level adventurer, but can gallop to outpace most hostile encounters, and are surprisingly good climbers. A patch added (awkward) mounted combat to the game, allowing you to try to shoot at or slash foes as you ride by. Horses, bless their hearts, will try to lend a hoof if you dismount to fight an enemy, but will fall quickly to mid- or high-level enemies, so you may spend more time worrying about protecting your investment than riding it. If you ever misplace your steed, try checking where you bought it from; some horses develop a habit of returning home after you dismount.

    Getting Help 
You may be the world's only Dragonborn, but that doesn't mean you have to adventure alone. Followers will help out in combat, can haul loot (with occasional complaints), and some can even pick locks. Some will equip weapons and items you tell them to hold if they're better than their default equipment, allowing you to keep your comrade competitive as Skyrim's enemies grow stronger. They come in five types:

Housecarls

After becoming Thane of a hold, you are assigned a personal housecarl whose job is to guard you and all you own with their lives. They are among the game's toughest followers, highly skilled in close combat, and capable of leveling with the player up to level 50 instead of being stuck at lower levels. They aren't much for stealth, though, so thief types will probably want to leave their housecarls at home.

Colleagues

If you are part of a group like the Companions, Dawnguard, or College of Winterhold, your fellow warriors and mages may offer to come with you on adventures. They'll usually have skills relevant to their institution, though they don't usually level up with you as high as housecarls do.

Sellswords

Paid help, generally found in taverns. They're usually decent in combat, and may also have some spellcasting or stealth ability unlike your average housecarl, but often must be paid again if dismissed.

Friends

If you help someone, they may offer to repay you by tagging along on your adventures. How useful they are varies tremendously; for example, Faendal the Bosmer archer is a crack shot, while Sven the bard is mainly a singing pack mule.

Quest-based

Sometimes, you may find yourself accompanying someone as part of a particular quest, like if you bump into an NPC investigating the same dungeon as you. They may not offer to carry any of your stuff and might not stick around once the dungeon is cleared, but they usually have some combat ability.

    Learning a Trade 
Most of your skills deal with combat, but others allow you to create things at the appropriate crafting station. Alchemy is the skill of potion-making, Enchanting allows you to magically enhance your equipment, and Smithing lets you forge and improve weapons and armor. Strictly speaking, you don't need to do any of this, and over the course of your adventures, you'll find plenty of potions and pieces of enchanted equipment to use, but these "naturally-occurring" treasures won't be quite as good as what you could have created for yourself if you invested some perks in one of these skills. Plus, picking up a trade is a great way to make money without leaving town.

Alchemy

You may be thinking, "Why do I need to make my own potions and poisons? They're all over the place!" Three reasons:

  1. These "found" potions are far weaker than what real alchemy is capable of;
  2. They're most often simple health/magicka/stamina potions rather than elixirs that boost your skills or resistances
  3. You can make powerful and lucrative potions using stuff that you can gather for free during quests.

To make a potion, you need an Alchemy Table and some ingredients. Said ingredients are everywhere: flowers and mushrooms growing in the wild, animal parts, certain foodstuffs, butterflies and moths, fish, elemental residue. Each has four characteristics, and you can consume a sample yourself to discover one of them (two with a Perk), but the rest you'll have to uncover through experimentation.

So muck about. Take two or three ingredients, mix them together, and if they share a common trait, you'll get a potion or poison. For example, mixing Wheat with Blisterwort will create a Potion of Restore Health. Combining ingredients that share more than one characteristic will make even better potions, so mixing Wheat with a Blue Mountain Flower will create a potion that both restores and fortifies Health. If you can find more than two ingredients with shared characteristics, you can make some pretty powerful brews; try combining a Giant's Toe, Hanging Moss, and Bear Claws sometime. But careless mixing can result in adverse side effects, leaving you with, say, a Potion of Health that also damages Magicka regeneration, or a Paralysis Poison that restores the victim's Stamina. They will still work and sell well, but you can take the master Alchemy perk to remove all negative side effects from potions and positive side effects from poisons.

Alchemy is an easy trade to level, because, again, ingredients for it are all over the place. If you don't like experimenting, you can also find or buy recipes from alchemists across Skyrim. Finally, aspiring alchemists may want to focus on the main quest, because about two thirds of the way through it, you can do an arduous side quest to collect Crimson Nirnroot for a bonus effect that gives you a 25% chance of creating an additional potion while crafting.

Enchanting

The craft skill that is probably the most difficult to level, but the one that pays off the most as well. Enchanting allows you to take an equippable item to an Arcane Enchanter and slap a magical effect on it, making a sword set foes on fire, armor that makes you more sneaky, rings that recharge your Magicka, and more.

To learn an enchantment, you must first take an already-enchanted item to an Arcane Enchanter and destroy it to learn how to replicate its enchantment yourself. Enchantments are powered by Soul Gems: crystals filled with a creature's spiritual essence. Take an empty gem, use the Soul Trap spell or a weapon with the Soul Trap enchantment, kill the thing before the effect wears off, and if you have a big enough empty Soul Gem, it will fill automatically. Enchanted armor, clothes, or jewelry will keep working forever, but outside of some unique artifacts, enchanted weapons have a set number of charges until they need to be replenished with another filled Soul Gem - when you create your own, you can decide whether to have that flaming sword deal a lot of damage but need to be recharged often, deal a little extra damage for hundreds of swings, or something in between.

Low-level enchanting isn't terribly impressive, and even with Perks, that Petty Soul Gem is only going to add maybe 2% to that Sneak enchantment, but if you stick with it, get the relevant perks, and invest in or acquire some Grand (or Black) Soul Gems, it's possible to craft a set of mage robes that let you cast spells almost for free, or a suit of armor that turns you into a veritable god of war.

Aspiring enchanters will want to plunder as many Dwemer Ruins as possible. The constructs inside frequently drop Soul Gems, often already-filled ones, and the ruins are home to swarms of Falmer that can fill the rest. If you're on the Dawnguard main questline, you can also find and fill Soul Gems for free at special ground fissures in the Soul Cairn, with the downside that each of these places can only be tapped once, and of course requires you to go to the Soul Cairn. Blackreach has special ore veins that you can take a pickaxe to to dig up Soul Gems.

Smithing

If you're going to learn one craft skill, make it Smithing. The protection and damage offered by basic weapons and armor will eventually be outpaced by your increasingly-dangerous enemies, so creating your own arms and armor means you aren't dependent on the game's random treasure generator when it comes to keeping competitive. Plus, you won't have to spend hours hunting down a pair of matching boots to go with that snazzy new armor you found in that tomb.

Smithing uses metal ores and ingots you can mine for yourself with a pickaxe, as well as leather goods created from animal pelts. You can also buy these ingredients from blacksmiths and other vendors, and will probably have to if you want to level this skill. Blacksmithing has the most crafting stations of any profession: you create equipment at a Forge or Anvil, turn ores into ingots at a Smelter, turn pelts into leather and/or leather into straps at a Tanning Rack, sharpen or otherwise enhance weapons at a Grinding Stone, and improve armor at a Workbench. So creating a pair of Leather Boots from scratch, for example, will involve killing three wolves, taking their pelts, turning their pelts into leather at a tanning rack, turning one of those pieces of leather into four leather straps, and finally creating the boots out of two pieces of leather and two leather straps at the forge. If you had an extra piece of leather, you could then improve the boots at a Workbench.

As you level your Smithing skill, you'll be able to spend perks allowing you to create advanced armor, work with fantastic metals, and ultimately make gear out of dragon bones and scales. Some armors are only heavy, like Dwarven, Orcish or Ebony Armor, others like Elven or Glass are only light, but some perks are more flexible and let you make either kind, like the Advanced Armors perk that unlocks both Steel Plate and Scaled Armor. So whether you're a lightly-armored thief or medieval tank, Smithing will help keep you alive and your enemies dead.

Most cities have at least a Forge, Grindstone, and Workbench, but not every major city has a Smelter because screw you. Whiterun, Windhelm, and Markarth are the only walled holds with fully-equipped blacksmiths; the rest will require you to go somewhere else to smelt things. It's also important to note that you cannot improve enchanted weapons or armor, including Daedric Artifacts, unless you take the Arcane Blacksmith perk.

Leveling Smithing can become a frustrating search for ingots at times. There are ore veins all over Skyrim, but they only yield two or three pieces of ore apiece and take time to respawn. Dwemer Ruins are good places to gather materials, both because they often have ore veins in cave tunnels, and because Dwemer constructs sometimes drop ore themselves. Additionally, the Dwarven Smithing perk allows you to turn all that Dwemer scrap metal into Dwemer Bows, an efficient way to grind the Smithing skill. Since the amount of experience gained from creating something depends on its value, creating jewelry out of gemstones and gold or silver is also a great way to level - if you plunder Halted Stream Camp north of Whiterun, you can find a Transmute Metal spell that will turn iron ore to silver and silver to gold, making this easier.

Alternatively, get a mod that lets you recycle metal goods at a Smelter.

Cooking

"What cooking skill?" you might think, and you'd be right; there isn't one. Cooking is mainly for flavor (pun possibly intended) and has little impact on gameplay, but it can be thought of as a variant of Alchemy that uses animal meat as ingredients and a cooking pot instead of an alchemy table. The results won't be as dramatic as a proper potion, but they're probably more filling.

With the addition of Hearthfire DLC, you also gain access to a new crafting station: the oven part of the homesteads' kitchen extension. This allows you to create more food items of varying usefulness. Highlights include Braided Bread that can increase carrying capacity, Juniper Berry Crostata that can restore 124 Health points over sixty seconds, and garlic bread which can cure diseases.

Just remember, the Nords put piles of salt in most of their food. It's not terribly healthy, but in a land like Skyrim, high blood pressure probably won't be the thing that kills you.

    Getting a House 
If you're looting like a proper adventurer, it won't take long for you to wonder where you're gonna keep all your stuff. Sure, you can stash things in any old container, but the contents of most will eventually respawn and NPCs may take it. And yes, if you join a guild, you're given a bed and a footlocker, but you won't get a full Well Rested bonus from a loaned bed. For that, you need a house.

Owning your own home offers a lot of advantages: a free bed to sleep in, storage and display space, a place for your spouse and kids, possibly a housecarl to bring on adventures, and oftentimes crafting stations. But you have to complete one or more quests for a hold's Jarl before you're offered property there (or you can see to it that the hold changes sides and government over the course of the civil war, which will let you skip most cities' house quests entirely). Plus, homes cost a lot of gold, and, in the case of Hearthfire's homesteads, resources as well.

Here's a rundown of your options, ranked roughly by ease of availability:

  • Breezehome (Whiterun) is the easiest home to get, and the cheapest to buy and fully upgrade (5,000 and 1,800 gold, respectively). You're offered it early in Skyrim's main questline, right after turning in an old artifact from the Nordic Ruin of Bleak Falls Barrow. Not only is it in Skyrim's most central city, but the house itself has an attractive position right next to the town blacksmith, and can be upgraded with an Alchemy Lab. Its only real drawbacks are its modest size compared to the others and the fact that the nearest enchanting table is up the hill at Dragonsreach, though of course, many game mods fix this. Also, it's unavailable if you're ignoring the main quest for a "no dragons" playthrough.

  • Lakeview Manor (Falkreath) is available right after leaving Helgen, but if you don't go straight to the Jarl of Falkreath, you'll receive a letter from him shortly after hitting level 9. After killing some bandits for the Jarl, you're given the option of buying a plot of land for 5,000 gold. Though you'll have to get some straw and other odds and ends to build and furnish the most basic of houses, and it will take a lot of iron and trips to a lumber mill to get the materials to fully upgrade the mansion, Lakeview is well worth the effort. As a homestead, you can outfit it with every kind of crafting station and customize it to fit your preferences, it's located near the heart of Skyrim, and the scenery is hard to beat.

  • Honeyside (Riften) is earned after investigating Riften's skooma problem, and costs 5,000-8,000 gold to buy and 4,300 more to upgrade. Thief players will appreciate having a home in the same city as their guild headquarters, the house can be upgraded with alchemy and enchanting stations, and unlike any other major city house, Honeyside has a doorway straight out to Skyrim, eliminating the need to pass through the city cell (which is a boon if you're in the middle of Dawnguard and worried about the poor townspeople falling prey to vampires). On the downside, getting to said guild headquarters (including the fencer) is much like going between Breezehome and Dragonsreach's enchanting table, the nearest smelter is even farther away in Shor's Stone, and Riften itself is on Skyrim's periphery, making visits home a bit of a detour.

  • Windstad Manor (Hjaalmarch) can be built after investigating Morthal's problems, and, like Lakeview Manor, takes a 5,000 gold land purchase followed by the time and resources spent upgrading the thing. This means that it can contain whatever amenities you want to build for it, though unlike Lakeview, this manor is in a rough neighborhood: namely, a godsforsaken swamp next to a necromancers' lair and draugr-infested ruins. Plus, you can just about see Proudspire Manor taunting you every time you step out the door.

  • Vlindrel Hall (Markarth) can be purchased for 8,000 gold after killing some Forsworn on behalf of Jarl Igmund, which includes a quest only available at level 20. At any rate, this repurposed Dwemer home boasts enchanting and alchemy laboratories and a fine view from the front porch, though the nearest blacksmithing station is across town. Downsides include a dimly-lit interior, being in a city on Skyrim's periphery—specifically, Markarth—and the fact that you might fall to your death while stumbling home one night.

  • Heljarchen Hall (The Pale) can be built once you've solved Dawnstar's nightmare problems, reached level 22, and killed a giant for its Jarl. Like the other homesteads, it costs 5,000 gold to buy the plot, and the mansion contains whatever you build. It's in sight of Whiterun, making it close to central Skyrim, and the scenery is nice if you're into cold tundras.

  • Hjerim (Windhelm) is unavailable until you progress through most of the Skyrim Civil War questline and either help the Stormcloaks take Falkreath or capture Windhelm and outright win the war for the Imperials. Oh, and you should probably look into those murders troubling Windhelm, too. Buying and upgrading the place costs 8,000-12,000 and an additional 9,000 gold, respectively. Hjerim boasts a somewhat cramped alchemy/enchanting room, but it's only a short walk from Windhelm's market district (including the local fencer and fully-equipped smithy). Though, depending on how you earned the home, your neighbors may not like you very much.

  • Proudspire Manor (Solitude) can be bought after investigating a cave on behalf of Jarl Elisif's steward and doing a favor for Elisif herself. It costs a whopping 25,000 gold for the bare, cobweb-y version, and another 11,000 to fully upgrade the mansion, but once upgraded, it's the fanciest house in the game. Proudspire Manor offers spacious enchanting and alchemy stations in the basement, and has access to all the amenities of Skyrim's capital, but blacksmiths beware; Solitude has a forge but no smelter.

  • Severin Manor (Raven Rock) is earned after doing three quests on behalf of Raven Rock: putting an end to the Ashspawn menace, investigating the ebony mines, and once both of those are done, uncovering an assassination plot. All of this will involve some difficult battles, but the reward is a fully-furnished mansion absolutely free. Severin Manor offers plenty of display space, complete crafting stations for Smithing, Alchemy, and Enchanting, and is crammed full of goodies you can pawn off if you don't want. It's highly recommended to get this place as soon as possible after starting the Dragonborn DLC, if only so you'll have a place to drop off all the loot you'll find on Solstheim. The only downside is that once your adventures there are completed, you'll have little reason to return to the manor.

    Improving Yourself 
Beyond skills, perks, racial traits, and equipment bonuses, there are still other ways to make your character more powerful:

Temporary Blessings

Praying at a shrine will give you a bonus associated with the relevant deity, which lasts for eight real-time hours of gameplay. Shrines to the Nine Divines can be found in houses of worship in Skyrim's cities, or even humble altars found in the wilds or dungeons. You can also add a shrine stand in the basement of a homestead you build. Praying at a shrine also has the handy effect of curing your character of any diseases, though this won't cure you of lycanthrophy, and will only rid you of Sanguinare Vampiris during the three-day period it takes to develop into full Vampirism.

The Divines' blessings are:
  • Akatosh: Magicka regenerates 10% faster
  • Arkay: Increases Health by 25 points
  • Dibella: Adds +10 to Speech
  • Julianos: Increases Magicka by 25 points
  • Kynareth: Increases Stamina by 25 points
  • Mara: Heal 10% more from Restoration spells
  • Stendarr: Block 10% more damage with your shield
  • Talos: Reduces Shout cooldown times by 25%
  • Zenithar: All prices are reduced by 10%

There are other blessings to be gained as well, but these are harder to come across:

  • The Blessing of Nocturnal makes you 10% harder to detect when sneaking, though the shrine needed for this is only unlocked after completing the Thieves' Guild main questline.
  • The "Voice of the Sky" effect makes animals non-aggressive toward you or your followers for a whopping 24 hours real-time, though it's lost if you ever attack an animal. To gain or regain it, you must read the ten wayshrines along the Seven Thousand Steps leading from Ivarstead up to High Hrothgar.
  • The Blessing of Auriel grants a 10% bonus to damage with bows, and is gained from shrines found in the Forgotten Vale, an area accessed late in Dawnguard's main quest.
  • The Blessing of Azura grants 10% Magic Resistance, the Blessing of Boethiah increases one-handed weapon damage by 10%, and the Blessing of Mephala makes merchant prices 10% better. These shrines are found in Raven Rock's temple, on the island of Solstheim, which you travel to for the Dragonborn DLC.

Standing Stones

There are 13 standing stones scattered across Skyrim, some in quite out-of-the-way places. Activating one will give you its bonus indefinitely, but at any time you can switch it out for another stone's power. Ordinarily, you can have only one at a time, but the Aetherial Crown, a possible reward for the Dawnguard side quest "Lost to the Ages," stores your previous standing stone's power within it when you activate a new one.

Some stones help you level certain skills faster...

  • The Warrior: combat skills (sans Archery) increase 20% faster
  • The Mage: magic and Enchanting skills increase 20% faster
  • The Thief: sneaky skills (and Archery) increase 20% faster
  • The Lover: grants the Lover's Comfort effect, so all skills increase 15% faster

Other stones grant you passive abilities...

  • The Lord: grants +50 armor and 25% magic resistance
  • The Lady: regenerate health and stamina 25% faster
  • The Atronach: grants 50 extra magicka, absorb 50% of hostile magic, but regenerate magicka 50% slower
  • The Apprentice: regenerate magicka twice as fast, but take double damage from spells
  • The Steed: equipped armor has no weight and won't slow you down, +100 to carrying capacity

And some stones give you a power that can be used once per day.

  • The Serpent: Paralyze the target for 5 seconds, and do 25 points of poison damage
  • The Shadow: Become invisible for 60 seconds
  • The Tower: Automatically pick a lock of Expert level or lower
  • The Ritual: Raise surrounding dead

Quest Rewards

Certain quests provide you a permanent bonus in addition to other loot.

  • Ancient Knowledge: Smithing increases 15% faster, 25% armor bonus when wearing Dwarven Armor. Gained from completing the quest "Unfathomable Depths," started from an Argonian in the harbor outside Riften's walls after reaching level 14.
  • Agent of Dibella: Deal 10% more damage to targets of the opposite sex, something very useful for female characters. Gained from completing the quest "The Heart of Dibella," which requires you to break into the inner sanctum of Markarth's temple to Dibella, get caught, and then cooperate.
  • Agent of Mara: 15% magic resistance. Gained from the quest "The Book of Love," started by talking to a priestess in Riften's temple to Mara.
  • Dragon Infusion: Dragons do 25% less melee damage. Gained after doing the "Dragon Research" quest for Esbern after finding three new recruits for the Blades and going on at least one dragon hunt. Note that you are locked out from this quest when the Blades find out about Paarthurnax, so it's best to do this as soon as possible before hitting that point in the main quest.
  • Prowler's Profit: Greatly increases your chance of finding precious gems in containers. Earned after completing "No Stone Unturned," a quest to gather 24 rare gemstones from across Skyrim. Or in other words, by the time you've completed this quest, you probably won't need the money gained from the ability.
  • Sailor's Repose: Healing spells are 10% more effective. Gained from investigating Frostflow Lighthouse, on Skyrim's northern shore between Dawnstar and Winterhold.
  • Sinderion's Serendipity: You have a 25% of creating a second potion when crafting things at an Alchemy Table. Earned from completing "Return to Your Roots," started in Blackreach.

Black Books

Black Books added by the Dragonborn DLC can add one of three possible permanent enchantments per book, with one exception.

Each of the seven Black Books can be found on the isle of Solstheim and will transport you to the daedric realm of Apocrypha when read. After this is done, you must navigate the level to claim your prize. Rereading the book after completing each level will transport you straight to the exit book, allowing you to change the enchantment.

The enchantments include once-a-day spells, normal use spells, passive bonuses, and boosts to shouts. One book allows you to reset a skill tree in exchange for one dragon soul.

Enchantments of particular value include:
  • Secret of Arcana (Black Book: Filament and Filigree): a once-a-day spell that makes spells cost no magic for 30 seconds. This allows you to cast your most powerful spells with abandon.
  • Secret Servant (Black Book: Untold Legends): this allows you to summon a Dremora daedra butler, who can can carry your items like a follower. Particularly useful in missions where you end up stripped of your equipment.
  • Companion's Insight (Black Book: The Winds of Change): stops your spells, shouts, and attacks from damaging followers. Useful to keep your follower alive.

    Buying and Selling 
While it's perfectly possible to survive off of the items you come across during your adventures, at some point, you'll need to approach a merchant, if only to pawn off some of the stuff you've been accumulating. Unfortunately, Karl Marx Hates Your Guts and No Hero Discount are in full effect here, so the effectiveness of your haggling is determined by your Speech skill. At low levels, you'll be annoyed by how little gold you gain from an hour's dungeoneering, while at high levels, you'll have the opposite problem of finding vendors with enough gold on hand to buy your goods. Fortunately, there's some steps you can take to get the most out of trading.

If you're willing to invest perks in the Speech tree, not only can you optimize your buying and selling prices, you can also grab the Investor perk and spend 500 gold to improve a merchant's cash pool. If you manage to max out your Speech skill, another perk gives all traders 1,000 more gold to play with, though by that point, money should no longer be an issue for you.

Alternatively, you can look for things like Potions of Haggling that give temporary bonuses to your bartering ability, or magic items to don before hitting the market. Some noteworthy pieces include:
  • Amulet of Dibella: Improves your Speech skill by 15 points, which is also useful for Persuasion or Intimidation checks in dialogue. Found randomly on enemies or in treasure chests.
  • Amulet of Zenithar: Improves prices by 10%, a step up from the Amulet of Dibella. Also found randomly.
  • The Masque of Clavicus Vile (see "Dungeoneering" above)
  • Volsung: A Dragon Priest mask found in the ruin of Volskygge, far west from Solitude. It gives you 20% better prices, 20 points of extra carrying capacity, and waterbreathing, making it useful just in general.
  • Thieves Guild equipment: A basic set of Thieves' Guild armor gives, among other things, a 10% bonus to haggling, the Guild Master's armor grants a 20% bonus, and the Amulet of Articulation bestows up to 35 bonus points in Speech. These are, of course, only available after joining and doing quests for the guild.

Stolen Goods

Skyrim's merchants have an amazing ability to tell whether you've acquired an item illegally, and will refuse to deal in such goods. Larcenous players will then want to join the Thieves' Guild and undertake quests that unlock fences in various holds, who have fewer concerns over where merchandise came from. It's possible for non-Guild thieves to sell stolen goods with the Fence perk, though this only applies to merchants you've invested in with the Investor perk and requires a ludicrously high Speech level. Another workaround involves stolen ingredients such as ingots or alchemical goods, which can be crafted into items that are not considered stolen.

    Miscellaneous Quest Warnings 
  • If you ever come across a purplish gemstone hovering in the air over a golden case, you may want to leave it be. These are one of the 24 gemstones needed to complete the "No Stone Unturned" Thieves' Guild quest to unlock the Prowler's Profit perk (see "Improving Yourself" above), and once you pick one up, the things are stuck in your inventory until you join the Thieves' Guild and find the rest.
  • Over the course of the main quest, you may feel forced to join two guilds, but this isn't necessarily the case. You will be advised to seek out the Thieves' Guild in Riften to find a plot-critical NPC, and the contact you meet will demand that you join the guild before he helps you. Instead (though the game never hints at this), you can talk to Riften's bartender to learn where to go next, and then pass a Speech check or brawl with another character to get the NPC's location. Similarly, you'll need to visit the College of Winterhold at some point during the main quest, but non-mages need not worry; simply demonstrating a Shout is enough to gain admittance, and you don't have to do any quests at the College to complete the game, though unlike the Thieves' Guild, the College questline must be started and will stay in your journal until you finish.
  • You can zoom in on items in your inventory. The only time you'll likely need this are to look at the codes on the dragon claw keys or at the map for the quest "Deathbrand" on Solstheim, as it is an inventory item, rather than a marker on your normal map.

Becoming Something Else

    Lycanthropy 
Becoming a werewolf has its upsides and downsides. You're completely immune to diseases (bugs aside) while you have lycanthropy, you can transform into a powerful beast form once per day, and by consuming humanoids' hearts in that form, you can extend the time until you revert and, if Dawnguard is installed, unlock perks to make it even better, like any other skill tree. On the other hand, your beast blood keeps you from getting a Well Rested bonus for sleeping in a bed, silver weapons do more damage to you, you can't use equipment, spells, abilities, pick locks, or loot corpses in beast form, and, of course, NPCs tend to freak out if they catch you transforming. Your beast form is only temporary, and as noted above, must be prolonged by feeding upon your victims; this also means that you can't end it voluntarily, and must wait for the effect to wear off.

Heart eating is central to being a werewolf; it lets you regain health, which doesn't naturally refill in wolf form, gives you points towards perks, and increases the amount of time you can spend in wolf form.

You contract lycanthropy as part of the Companions questline, and at the end of it, you're given the option of curing yourself. If you don't, one Companion NPC will occasionally give you quests to retrieve Totems of Hircine that will grant you additional abilities while in beast form.

Alternatively, you can obtain the Ring of Hircine (see the "Daedric Quests" section under "Questing" above), which, when equipped, grants an ability identical to beast form. If you already have lycanthropy when you get the ring, you can transform as often as you want.

The Dragonborn DLC adds a werewolf tribe on the Isle of Solstheim who can sell you several rings which give you bonuses when you transform into wolf form wearing them.

Curing Lycanthropy

So, the sleepless nights, wet dog smell, and insensitive comments from the guards got you down? Well, there are two ways out. The first is encountered during the Companions questline, when you cure an old ghost's werewolf curse. You can cure yourself of Lycanthropy in the same way at any point after that. Option two is becoming a Volkihar Vampire Lord, which can be done early in the Dawnguard questline; just talk to Lord Harkon or Serana.

If you end up missing the whole werewolf package for any reason, the Companions can turn you back. However, this can only be done once, so think carefully.

     Vampirism 
You have a small chance of contracting Sanguinaire Vampiris whenever a vampire attacks you with its health drain effect or weapons, and unless you cure the disease within three in-game days, it will progress into full-blown Vampirism. At that point, the only cure is to visit the wizard Falion in Morthal.

Vampires gain strengths, weaknesses, and special abilities that get more pronounced the longer they go without feeding. Vampires are immune to disease and poison, gain bonuses to their Frost Resistance and Sneak skill, can toggle improved night vision on or off, and can animate a corpse once per day. Vampires who go a day without feeding gain a Calm ability, and vampires who go three days without feeding may turn invisible once a day. However, vampires take additional damage from fire, and cannot regenerate health, magicka or stamina while in sunlight. Before the Dawnguard DLC, vampires would be reviled when reaching stage four of going without blood, prompting townsfolk to attack them.

You can feed by sneaking up on and interacting with sleeping characters, or by using the Vampire's Seduction ability on a hapless victim. Drinking blood reduces the penalties of being a vampire, but also reduces the bonuses, so how often you feed depends on your cost/benefit analysis of your situation.

If you begin the Dawnguard questline, you can choose to side against the titular organization and become a Vampire Lord. In addition to the aforementioned abilities, this lets you transform into and out of a powerful (if hideous) form at will. While in full Vampire Lord mode, you can use Blood Magic to drain health, fling victims around, or animate corpses, or you can land and fight in melee. Like werewolves, Vampire Lords can earn perks for a special skill tree as they feed on victims, making these abilities even more potent. To gain perks, Vampire Lords must kill enemies with their basic Drain Life spell or a special melee finisher; just drinking blood does not count.

Curing Vampirism

So you've decided to bring your undead nightmare to an end. Thankfully there are two options. If you haven't done the Companions questline, you can get transformed into a werewolf, which cures the whole blood drinking, sunlight allergy issue...by replacing it with sleepless nights and unwanted comments from the guards. If you still crave a return to humanity, check the 'Curing Lycanthropy' section above. The other option is a wizard named Falion in Morthal, who can cure you for the low price of a filled Black Soul Gem and a simple ritual.

On the Subject of Mods

Likely, you have also heard about the massive modding community surrounding Bethesda's games, and Skyrim is definitely no exception, as its popularity also attracted many modders, both experienced and newbies. Long story short, there are literally tens of thousands of mods for Skyrim out there, be they quest mods, graphical mods, weapon and armor mods, just-for-fun mods, and many other mods. What you want to use and don't want to use probably comes down to personal taste, so the only mod recommendation that can definitely be given, no matter who you are, is probably the "Unoffical Skyrim Patch", which aims to fix as many issues and bugs that Bethesda for one reason or another never got around to fixing as possible, and will ensure that your game is going to run (relatively) smooth and without any serious hiccups.

Links can be found here to the Special Editon version and here to the Legacy Edition version of the Unoffical Patch.

Of course, if you don't want to browse through endless lists of mods, then it's best to start with our very own list of recommended mods. We're not saying that you need them, but the mods on this list are a good starting point.


Hopefully you have everything you need to start adventuring in Skyrim now. Above all else, remember this: in a Wide Open Sandbox game like Skyrim, whatever you think is the right way to play is the right way to play. Kos faasnu, Dovahkiin.Translation: 
Top

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:

/

Media sources:

/

Report