Skyrim Nightblade Build

part two

Welcome back! In Part One of my Skyrim Nightblade Build series, we decided that building a nightblade in Skyrim required three core skills:  One-handed, Sneak, and Illusion. In Part Two, we’ll consider some more skills, and finish allocating our perk points.

There are many directions we could go from here, depending on how we want our nightblade to play. The nature of the game requires us to choose just a few more skills to invest our perk points in, even though there are many that we would find useful. Keep in mind that we can still use all of the skills, level them up, and enjoy some benefits from them. We just won’t be purchasing perk points in all of them.

Supplemental Skills

The nightblade, in my mind, relies less on combat prowess and mundane skills and more on the dark and mystical powers of magic.


I had originally planned to make Destruction one of the nightblade’s core skills. However, I decided that it’s entirely possible to use magic of a less direct nature and still be called a nightblade. And so, Destruction instead falls in the category of supplemental skills. Still, it’s one of my favorites.1

There are a few ways to handle Destruction, so the following list is not set in stone. You should adjust it to fit your needs.

Novice Destruction. 1/1. All schools of magic require the Novice perk as a prerequisite for everything else.

Destruction Dual Casting. 1/1. The value of dual casting on its own is somewhat dubious. It allows you to cast the spell for a little over twice as much damage, but it isn’t cost effective. It deals 220% damage for 280% of the normal mana cost.2 So, you could deal almost as much damage more cost effectively by just placing the same spell in both hands and casting with both at once, without officially dual casting it. This would deal 200% damage for 200% the mana cost. The true value of dual casting with Destruction is…

Impact. 1/1. With this perk, every time you dual cast a Destruction spell it staggers your enemy.3 This doesn’t sound like much, but it turns out to be exceptionally powerful because it affects pretty much every enemy in the game.4 It’s possible to stagger a powerful enemy in rapid succession (basically causing “stun lock”). You can just keep doing it until they die. In truth, it’s not super fun to do this all the time, but it can help you out in a pinch.

If you prefer more of a challenge and therefore don’t plan on getting this perk, I don’t recommend purchasing the destruction dual casting perk either.

Augmented [Element]. 2/2. These perks are the only way to enhance the damage of your destruction magic, making them an important addition. There are three branches to choose from, and you really only need to follow one of them. It all depends on which element you prefer. I personally really like the look of both fire and lightning spells, and so I might spend my perks on both eventually.

Fire spells have the most favorable damage-mana ratio. They are the cheapest to cast, and cause 10% more damage on top of the spell’s stated damage.5

There are a few arguments in favor of lightning, though. Whereas Fire and Frost spells require you to lead your target a bit, Shock spells travel to their targets instantly.6 Very few enemies are resistant to shock damage. The master-level Shock spell, Lightning Storm, is devastating against single targets, even dragons—provided that you have enough mana to channel it for a few seconds. Lightning spells also damage your target’s mana.

Ultimately, I think you should choose your element based on what you think is the coolest.

Disintegrate. 1/1. If you’ve decided to go with lightning spells, I recommend taking disintegrate. Its counterparts in fire and frost magic, Intense Flames and Deep Freeze, are only marginally useful. They disable enemies, but only when they are about to die anyway. Disintegrate, on the other hand, instant-kills things once they fall below 15% health. So it effectively reduces the hit points of everything by 15%. Worthy of one perk point, in my opinion.

In addition to these perks, you may decide to invest in all of the perks that reduce casting cost by 50% (Adept Destruction, Expert Destruction, etc.). The value of this branch, which is common across every school of magic, is debatable. On one hand, they are very useful if you find yourself low on mana a lot. On the other, they cost a ton of perks! You’ll have to decide if you can afford these perks after you’ve plotted out your build. Keep in mind that there are many items which reduce the cost of casting spells, and you can even enchant your own. If you choose to specialize in enchanting, you can even enchant your items enough so that you can cast all spells in a school of magic (e.g., Destruction spells) for free.


Alteration is an interesting school of magic because of its sheer variety. Alteration spells include Paralyze, Water Breathing, Detect Life, and the mage armor line, as well as many other “utility” spells. It also has some of the most interesting perks. Especially notable are the ones that increase your ability to deal with enemy mages.

Even though we’ll probably be casting these spells less than the other schools of magic, we’ll need to invest in the line of “basic” perks (apprentice, adept, etc.) for this school simply because they are prerequisites for the rest of the “juicy” Alteration perks.

Novice Alteration. 1/1. As always, the Novice perk is required to gain access to the rest of the skill tree.

Alteration Dual Casting. 1/1. Useful for extending the duration of pretty much all Alteration spells. Especially important for Dragonhide. Normally, Dragonhide lasts just 30 seconds. When dual casted it lasts 66 seconds. If you also have the Stability perk, a dual casted Dragonhide spell will last up to 99 seconds! Quite a long time, for such a powerful spell. Of course, you’ve got to have enough mana to dual cast it. It’s very mana intensive.

Apprentice Alteration. 1/1. A prerequisite for…

Magic Resistance. 3/3. Each rank of this perk provides +10% magic resistance, for a total of +30%. This, combined with other sources of magic resistance and the Atronach perk, is extremely useful against enemy magical attacks. The ability to be “slippery” when it comes to magic, negating part or all of the effects, really serves to enhance the nightblade aesthetic and reinforces its role as the ultimate smart character.

Adept Alteration. 1/1. A prerequisite for…

Stability. 1/1. There a small but valid reason for considering this perk:  Extending the duration of the spells Paralyze and Dragonhide. These are fairly short duration spells on their own, but if you dual cast them and have the stability perk, I’ve found them to very powerful indeed.

Expert Alteration. 1/1. A prerequisite for…

Atronach. 1/1. The Atronach perk provides a 30% chance to absorb incoming magical attacks. When magical attacks are absorbed, they negate 100% of the damage and regenerate your own mana by an amount equal to the base cost of the incoming spell. Let’s be honest, this is pretty sweet. Oh, and if you were to activate the Atronach Stone, this perk stacks with it, so you’d have something like an 80% chance to absorb 100% of magical damage.

Master Alteration. 1/1. I’d actually recommend this one because it costs just one more perk point, and both Mass Paralysis and Dragonhide are very expensive and last for relatively short durations, which means you’ll tend to cast them quite a bit. They’re also very powerful.

I would advise against the mage armor perks. That might seem strange, considering that I also advise against wearing armor, but again, we aren’t playing a nightblade with the intention of getting hit. Even if we did need some extra armor, these perks just don’t provide that much—certainly not enough to make them worth three perk points. A final argument against the mage armor perks is the master-level spell, Dragonhide. Dragonhide raises your armor to the highest possible value,7 just as if you were wearing the strongest armor in the game, and it does so regardless of whether or not you’ve invested in the mage armor perks.


Enchanting allows you to go around destroying magical items. When you do, you “learn” the magical effects of those items. You are then able to enchant new items with those effects.8 It is my favorite of the crafting skills.

Enchanter. 5/5. This is the basic Enchanting perk, but also one of the most important. When fully unlocked, this perk doubles the strength of your enchantments. This is important if you want to reduce the casting cost of certain magical schools to the point where you can cast spells for free.

Insightful Enchanter. 1/1. There are two paths to the perk that is the crowning jewel of this skill tree, Extra Effect. Insightful Enchanter is on the shorter path. Also, it increases the effectiveness of skill enhancing enchantments by an additional 25%, which can be quite good actually.

Corpus Enchanter. 1/1. The next perk along the path, Corpus Enchanter increases enchantments that boost health, mana, or stamina by an additional 25%.

Extra Effect. 1/1. Ah, at last. We’ve made it. Extra effect allows you to enchant items with not  one but two magical effects. This doubles the amount of total enchantments you can have active at any one time. So, you could make it so spells from two schools are free to cast. Or you could do just one, and put a health boosting enchantment on all your items as well. As you probably realize, the potential combinations are legion.

Fire Enchanter. 1/1. This perk is quite optional, but since it costs just one more perk, it is worth considering. Later on in the game, if you find yourself with an extra perk point that you’re unsure where to put, go ahead and put it here. Then enchant a new dagger with flames and start bringing the heat.


This last skill tree, Restoration, is worth considering because with just a couple of perk points, we can get some pretty decent benefits.

Novice Restoration. 1/1. As always, we must get this perk to unlock the rest.

Regeneration. 1/1. If you use healing spells at all, this perk is awesome for how cheap it is. Boosting the power of all healing spells by 50% becomes a big deal when mana is precious and you’re in the dungeon’s heart, cut off from escape.

Recovery. 2/2. If, as you put together your nightblade build, you haven’t yet run out of perk points, consider this perk for a generic but useful passive bonus. Each point grants +25% mana regeneration, for a total of +50%.

Sacrifices Must Be Made

So, I’ve clearly decided that I prefer a more magic-focused nightblade. To that end, I’m giving up certain combat and stealth skills that would otherwise fit nicely into our nightblade build. The following skills don’t make the cut.

Why not Conjuration?

Conjuration is notably absent from our list of supplemental skills. After all, our nightblade calls upon dark forces, and what forces are darker than necromancy?

The truth is, though, that summoning creatures makes it difficult to stay under the radar. I think that being invisible, attacking from the shadows, and disappearing quickly is far more important to the nightblade, and so we won’t be raising the dead to do our fighting for us.

Why Not Light Armor?

Going without armor is perhaps the biggest sacrifice we’ll be making. Light armor has its benefits, and in the late game you can even reach the armor cap with it. Furthermore, it is entirely compatible with the nightblade’s stealthy aesthetic.

However, would we be playing a nightblade if we were planning on getting hit? We’ll be stalking the shadows, invisible until we strike. And if we do somehow attract notice or get surrounded by bandits, we have Illusion magic to enchant our foes into submission—or even better, turn them against each other.

It’s also worth noting that light armor will slow us down, burden us, and make us less stealthy (unless and until we invest in the proper perks). Pure clothing allows for maximum stealth, speed, and agility.

But wait, you say. Early on in the game we won’t have powerful spells to protect us! That’s true, but it’s also the case that light armor is very weak early in the game, providing only marginal protection. We need to call upon agility and cunning if we want to survive, with or without light armor.

These reasons, plus the fact that we need to conserve our precious perk points, support forgoing armor.

Why Not Smithing?

The next skill I’m passing on is Smithing, despite the fact that it can be one of the more powerful skills in the game. However, given that we aren’t wearing armor, half of the benefit of Smithing is inapplicable to us. That leaves us with the Smithing skill’s effect on our blade, so let’s talk about that for a minute.

Remember, we can use skills even if we don’t invest perk points in them. We can still level the skill to 100 and benefit some from using it. So the question is always, what am I sacrificing by not investing perk points in this skill?

In the case of Smithing, we are sacrificing the ability to craft our blades out of high-quality materials, like ebony or dragonbone. So, we will have to track down our blades the old-fashioned way:  adventuring! (Or shopping.) This isn’t a huge deal.

But we are also sacrificing the ability to “improve them twice as much.” By taking perk points in the Smithing tree, we would unlock the ability to improve our weapons at a grindstone much more effectively.

If we max out our Smithing skill to 100 but take no perks in the tree, we are able to improve the item to the “Flawless” level of quality. We don’t care what this does for armor, but for weapons, it improves the damage by +7.

With the relevant perk from the Smithing tree, we would be able to improve our weapons to the level of “Flawless” with a Smithing skill of just 57. We would reach this skill level quite a bit earlier in the game. Moreover, we would then be able to keep improving our weapons, eventually to the “Legendary” level once we reach a Smithing skill of 91. Improving a weapon to this level improves the damage by +10.

So, there would clearly be some benefit to taking the perks. However, in the end, an extra +3 damage is hardly worth the perk points it would cost us. And looking beyond the pure mechanics of the skill, I don’t think specializing in Smithing fits the nightblade aesthetic.

On a sidenote, I suppose you could spend the two points it would take to purchase Arcane Smithing, which would then allow you to improve magical weapons. This would be important if you’d like to improve any of the magical daggers from the game. Alternatively, you could enchant your own after you’ve already improved them via Smithing, and save those perk points for something else. This would sacrifice the ability to improve the unique magical daggers you’ll find throughout the game though. Something to think about.

Why Not Lockpicking and Pickpocket?

These two skills would certainly fit our stealthy, cunning image. But the truth is, the benefits of spending perk points on these skills are not really worth it. Lockpicking is just not that difficult, and Pickpocket isn’t something I do much.9

Overall, I guess my nightblade resembles an assassin more than he resembles a thief.

I suppose one perk that might be worth trying to work into your build is extra pockets, which increases your carrying capacity by 100. You can always use a little extra carrying capacity.

Why Not Alchemy?

This skill tree would be useful and would fit the nightblade aesthetic very well. The only reason I’m not pursuing it is because I don’t enjoy crafting potions or poisons, and I’d prefer to use my perks elsewhere.

Coming Up Next

Alright. In Part One we talked about the core skills that are essential for all nightblades. In Part Two, we discussed the supplemental skills, and the sacrifices we’ve chosen to make. In Part Three we’ll talk about which items we should be on the look out for, which spells are important, and general tips on how to play the nightblade, i.e. how to enjoy destroying your foes with a sharp blade from the shadows and by calling upon dark magic. Also, I’ll plot out a full sample build using the principles we’ve discussed so far.

Continue to Part Three of my Skyrim Nightblade Build.

The screenshot above is from Dead End Thrills, a gorgeous site that I highly recommend taking a look at.

  1. I say this despite the fact that after a while, we’ll be able to one-hit kill almost anything with our sneak attacks. The reason I’ve chosen Destruction has more to do with liking the feel of blowing stuff up every once in a while than it does with actual power in the meta-game. 

  2. For schools of magic other than Destruction, dual casting can have more value. This is particularly true in the case of Illusion because Illusion spells are all or nothing; they either affect the enemy or they don’t. Dual casting Illusion spells makes them affect more powerful enemies, which can be enormously useful. Especially for a nightblade! 

  3. This effect doesn’t apply to spells that wouldn’t normally have an “impact,” like Flames for example. 

  4. Note that Impact doesn’t normally work on dragons, but it will if you take the “Augmented” perk that matches the element of the spell you’re using. 

  5. Take the novice-level Destruction spells, for example. Flames has a base mana cost of 14/sec, Frostbite has a base mana cost of 16/sec, and Sparks has a base mana cost of 19/sec. And yet, all three spells deal the same amount of damage to your enemies’ health (not including the extra 10% that Flames will deal when it sets them on fire). Of course, Frostbite damages their stamina, and Sparks damages their mana. Whether or not these extras are worth the added mana cost is something you’ll have to decide. 

  6. However, Shock spells also have a much shorter range than Fire or Ice spells. 

  7. Actually, it raises your physical damage reduction to the highest possible value (80%). Armor is a separate value in Skyrim that increases physical damage reduction. Dragonhide skips the calculation and affects your physical damage reduction directly. So while it doesn’t technically affect your armor, it achieves the same result as wearing enough armor to reach Skyrim’s armor cap would. 

  8. It’s important to note that when you destroy an item to learn its enchantment(s), the strength of that item’s enchantments don’t matter at all. So it’s best to learn your enchantments by destroying weaker items, and save strong items to use or sell. 

  9. On the rare occasion I do pickpocket something, I must confess I just save the game beforehand.