The nightblade has been a favorite archetype of mine since Morrowind. Combining stealth and precision with a strong command of magic, he (or she) is the ultimate smart character. Yes, sometimes it’s satisfying to run up and hack at your enemies with a giant sword. But there’s an edgy badass feeling that comes with materializing from the shadows and slitting your enemy’s throat before they can make a sound. And magic is just too cool to pass up.
So, as I start to think about creating a character in Skyrim, the nightblade is what comes to mind first. I want to move quickly, strike with precision, and be mystical. I’m sure I’ll revise it as I play, but here is my tentative plan for allocating my perks.
There are certain skills which I consider to be central to the nightblade concept: One-handed, Stealth, and Illusion. Of course, I would expect a nightblade to have expertise in more schools of magic, but Illusion is the only one of these that seems critical enough to be considered a nightblade non-negotiable. To what extent one must invest in these skills, well, that’s a matter of debate.
A nightblade must have a blade.
Armsman. 5/5. I feel like doubling my damage is worth all five perk points here. If I need to, I may sacrifice one or two points in favor of other skills.
Fighting Stance. 1/1. I think a lot of my sneak attacks will also be power attacks, so this will have some benefit. But mostly, it serves as a prerequisite for…
Savage Strike. 1/1. The 25% bonus damage is nice, but really what I’m interested in is the chance to decapitate my enemies! Even if I turn out to be a heroic do-gooder, I’ll want to be a terrifying and relentless force against evil doers. Slicing off their heads seems like a good start.
And then, the tough question. To dual-wield or not to dual-wield? There are three potential perk points to spend here if I want to use two daggers at once. But do I? Do I?? I’ll refrain for now, but we’ll see. I’ll come back and take another look at this tree if it turns out that I have extra perk points to spend. After all, I have a lot of perks to purchase in other skill trees.
This is the “night” part.
Stealth. 1/5. Despite the importance of stealth to building a good nightblade, I really feel like only one point is needed here. One point grants a 20% better “sneak-rate,” and subsequent points add 5%. So adding four more points only grants you another 20% (for a total of 40% with five perk points invested). This seems like a case of diminishing returns. Furthermore, as we’ll see later on, much of our stealth will come from the art of Illusion magic.
Backstab. 1/1. Ah, backstab, the staple of the assassin types. I predict that this will be extremely useful early on in the game (it requires a mere 30 in the sneak skill), and overall it’s just critical to the flavor of the nightblade. Also note that while backstabbing is traditionally a job for the dagger, this perk applies to all one-handed weapons.
Deadly Aim. 1/1. Even though I expect to rarely (if ever) use a bow, I suppose tripling my bow damage could be useful in a pinch. But the truth is that the importance of this perk stems mainly from its role as a prerequisite for…
Assassin’s Blade. 1/1. “Sneak attacks with daggers now do a total of fifteen times normal damage.” This is the bread and butter perk. It makes the assassination of powerful foes not only possible, but also deeply satisfying. Plus, I have it on good authority that there is an item in Skyrim that, when used in conjunction with this perk, grants a total sneak multiplier of times 30!1 Think about it.
The other branch of this skill tree features some interesting perks that might be used to achieve the nightblade flavor, but they might not be worth it. Muffled Movement,2 for example, seems to be inferior to (and completely replaced by) the Illusion spell Muffle,3 which can be acquired pretty early on. And I remain undecided about whether or not I will even wear any armor at all.
Others, like Light Foot4 or Silent Roll,5 would enhance the shadowy feel to the character, but perhaps not as much as additional magical capabilities would. So, as strange as it seems for a nightblade to invest only four perk points into sneak, I will stop there for now.
The concept of a nightblade: stealth + magic = fear in the hearts of your enemies. Illusion is a natural way to harmonize these two skill paths, largely by calling upon the Illusion spell Invisibility.
There seem to be two schools of thought about Illusion magic, though. The first advocates taking nearly every perk, so that the effect of your mind control magic is maximized. Most perks in this skill tree are devoted to bolstering the maximum level of creature that you can affect. But another school of thought would discard the use of these spells, instead focusing only on Invisibility and Muffle. This second option requires very little perk investment.
In my initial testing, I found that the Calm line of spells6 worked wonders when my stealth failed. I would simply cast the spell on them, they would go about their business, and I’d creep up for the kill. Trickery, deceit, manipulation. These seem like the province of a true nightblade. Moreover, I think I’m going to prefer clothing over armor, and I’ll need a way to avoid being overpowered by groups of enemies. A final consideration is that the more Illusion spells one uses, the faster the Illusion skill increases, and the sooner one has access to the cornerstone spell of the nightblade, Invisibility. So I’ll choose the first option and dedicate a large amount of perks to the School of Illusion.
Perks that increase level cap. 5/5. As mentioned, most perks in this tree simply raise the level of enemies that are susceptible to your Illusion magic. Some are specific to certain types of enemies, (e.g. animals), while others are specific to the type of spell (e.g. calm spells). The full list of these perks is as follows: Animage, Hypnotic Gaze, Kindred Mage, Aspect of Terror, and Rage.
Illusion Dual Casting. 1/1. This perk enhances the maximum level of enemies affected even further.7 This is actually quite useful early on, when you encounter single powerful enemies but haven’t yet purchased many of the other perks that increase level cap. Dual casting drains a lot of mana, but usually casting the spell once on a powerful enemy buys you plenty of time.
Quiet Casting. 1/1. This perk seems made just for the aspiring nightblade. It allows you to cast from stealth without making a sound. It’s something I’ll try to get as soon as possible, as its applications are many. One example is hiding in a dark corner, barely undetected, and then casting invisibility before entering the center of the room and dispatching the poor fools within. Without Quiet Casting, the sound of the spell would alert them to my presence. We can’t have that.
Master of the Mind. 1/1. This allows you to use your Illusion spells on creatures that are normally immune, like undead, daedra, and automatons. Note that you still need to cast a powerful enough spell to affect a creature of their level. Anyway, it seems indispensable to me. Of course, it comes rather late (requiring an Illusion skill of 90), so draugr-heavy dungeons will need to be addressed some other way for quite a while.
Now, what about the perks that all schools of magic contain, the ones that allow you to cast spells for 50% magicka? I’m not actually sure if I’ll spring for these, although they would make dual casting against single powerful enemies quite a bit easier. I’ll have to make the call later, as my character and playstyle begin to develop. (It’s worth noting, I guess, that I’ll need to take the first one, Novice Illusion, to gain access to the skill tree as a whole.)
Coming Up Next
One-handed, Stealth, and Illusion are the triumvirate skills for nightblades everywhere. But what else shall I add? Next, I’ll explain my approach to what I call the “supplemental” skills. I will tend to focus on adding as much magical ability as possible while making sure my character can still carve a wicked path with his dagger.
Continue to Part Two of my Skyrim Nightblade Build.
The screenshot above is from Dead End Thrills, a gorgeous site that I highly recommend taking a look at.
- A passage from The Elder Scrolls Wiki:
If coupled with the Shrouded Gloves or the Shrouded Hand Wraps, available on a cupboard in the entrance room of the Pine Forest Brotherhood Sanctuary, either of which doubles the damage of backstabs, the Assassin’s Blade perk will allow thirty (30) times normal damage with a successful sneak attack with a dagger. This will turn even the lowly Iron Dagger into one of the most powerful weapons in the game.
- Muffled Movement, a perk which becomes available when the sneak skill reaches 30, “reduces noise from armor by 50%.” Sneak (Skyrim), The Elder Scrolls Wiki. ↩
- Muffle “renders the caster’s footsteps completely silent.” Muffle, The Elder Scrolls Wiki. ↩
- Light Foot allows you to venture through dungeons and step on pressure plates without triggering them. Sneak (Skyrim), The Elder Scrolls Wiki. ↩
- This perk allows you to silently roll forward if you sprint while sneaking. Sneak (Skyrim), The Elder Scrolls Wiki. ↩
- This line of Illusion spells includes Calm, Pacify, and the master spell Harmony. Illusion (Skyrim), The Elder Scrolls Wiki. ↩
- From the Unofficial Elder Scrolls Pages:
Dual casting an Illusion spell overcharges the effects into an even more powerful version. This slightly more than doubles the maximum level of any level-based Illusion spell. Level adjustments from Animage or Kindred Mage or Hypnotic Gaze or Aspect of Terror or Rage are applied before the doubling effect (2.2 times the spell power for 2.8 times the magicka cost).