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Illusion, Evasion, and the Art of Mastering Stealth in Skyrim

Discussion in 'Skyrim Guides and Tutorials' started by The Spectre of Skyrim, Apr 17, 2012.

  1. The Spectre of Skyrim

    The Spectre of Skyrim An Evil-turned-good guy

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    Most aspiring stealth characters follow the good old bow-and-dagger path, picking off their enemies from a distance or slitting their throats when the mood hits them. It's tried and true, but it is not always foolproof. You are not invisible - the possibility of being seen and overpowered by a heavily-armoured or magic-wielding opponent is always real, though become increasingly less common as your sneak skill improves. You have a weakness, though the AI is not smart enough to exploit it often enough to be a real hassle.

    There are times though, where certain boss battles and dragon fights may prevent you from striking from the shadows and can become bothersome to your deadly but under-armoured character.

    But what if you could become invisible? What if the enemies saw you only when you want them to see you? Where (almost) every battle is on your terms? There is a way friends, but to do so we must step away from the classic Warrior/Thief hybrid that constitutes the classic assassin archetype and delve into the magical side of things - a stealth wizard, if you will, but more commonly known as a Nightblade.

    Part 1: Setting Up

    Let's start at the beginning and set up your character. Race doesn't matter too much - you could pick anyone really. But here are some recommendations:

    Dunmer: I never used their racial power once, but the 50% fire resistance is very handy in mage fights, dragon fights, and when you step into a fire trap. Starting skill bonuses barely matter, but they do start with bonuses in basically everything we're focussing on. Also starts with the Sparks spell, allowing you to more effectively fight mages early game.

    Altmer: If you plan on just spamming spells, their starting Mana bonus and the Highborn ability will allow you to throw many destruction spells when you are forced to fight, or just spam fear/calm and walk away from everyone. Starts with Fury, an Illusion spell, and a magic school we will be using extensively.

    Breton: For the 25% magic resistance, of course. Starts with Conjure familiar - we won't be using conjuration, but it's the magic resistance that draws people to this race mostly, unless you plan on being a conjurer/necromancer.

    I personally chose to be a Dark Elf, partially for the starting skill bonuses, partially for the fire resistance, and partially because they, in the TES universe, fit the role in a roleplaying sense. Plus, my character looks BADASS.

    Now to plan out your character progression and the skills and perks you will be using:

    Sneak is a given - we are a stealth character, after all. You're going to want to get every perk in the Sneak tree, and as soon as you can, because the faster you become stealthier, the less vulnerable you'll be. Your first goal should be to get Assassin's Blade ASAP, because playing a Nightblade, or any stealth character, relies a lot on this perk.

    Light Armour will be needed. There are exceptions that I will explain later but for the most part you're going to need some kind of light armour on. It is much quieter and allows you to move faster than in heavy armour.

    Destruction will be your ranged mode of attack. Most of the time we will be using a dagger, but when you are forced to fight you will be able to call on powerful spells to blast your opponents away. You will use this more in the early game than the late game as it is more likely you will be discovered and forced to fight early on. Do NOT get all the perks in this tree - some are not needed.

    Illusion is the key to this mode of play, and also happens to be a magic school that the uninformed tend to dismiss as useless because it can't kill things. I will devote a section later to the use of Illusion. As far as perks go, you should get every perk in the tree. This school is incredibly powerful once you do.

    Part 2: Tools of the Trade


    Using Illusion

    Illusion Spells are an essential part of a Nightblade build. There are 4 kinds, and I will give a description of each and how they should be used. It is important to note that Illusion spells only work on enemies up to a certain level. While there are some enemies that cannot be affected, you can often overcome the problem with either a higher-level spell or by dual casting the spell, which increases the max level at which an NPC will be affected. Remember to get every perk in this tree - it will make Illusion your most powerful asset, along with your trusty little dagger.

    Fury: Fury spells, starting with the Novice level "Fury" spell, cause NPCs to attack everyone around them. You will be using these spells A LOT. You can clear out entire camps, forts and rooms simply by casting Fury spells until all the enemies have killed each other and only one remains. Thus, you do not have to do a lot of fighting yourself, although the enemy left over will probably be the most powerful, such as a boss character. You should get the best available version of these spells ASAP so you rarely reach the level cap.

    Fear and Calm: Fear spells cause enemies to run away for a period of time, while Calm spells cause them not to attack you for a period of time. Both should be used when you don't want/need to fight something - I frequently cast it on wild animals so I can just keep on running without pause (I don't fast travel). Which you use is up to you, both have roughly the same effect: the enemy doesn't attack you.

    Stealth Spells:

    Clairvoyance - when cast (you must hold it), a path to the current objective is shown. Sometimes comes in useful if you get lost or can't find a hidden door.

    Muffle - Cast this any time you go into a dungeon or enemy encampment or anything - it makes you absolutely silent. Not only that, it levels up your Illusion skill without having to be cast on an enemy. A must-have for a stealth character.

    Invisibility - I am baffled to this day why such a powerful spell is only Expert level rather than Master; IMO, it should have been the only Master level Illusion spell, and it would totally be worth the wait. As it is, you need only be level 75 to purchase this spell from Drevis Neloren at the College of Winterhold. It makes you invisible for 30 seconds (longer if dual cast) or until you interact with/attack something. Once you get this spell, almost any troubles you may have been having with stealth will be gone - Backstabs will be easy peasy lemon squeezy.

    Note: The Master level Illusion spells, though you should definitely get them, are AOE spells that are used as an oh-plops button or to affect large groups of enemies. Most of the time, stick with the expert-level spells and, if you have a large group of enemies, use the Master ones by going invisible, getting close to them, then casting it and running away(if it's Mayhem) or keep going (if it's Hysteria or Harmony).

    Destruction: Your elementary back-up

    Should you get into an actual battle, you will need more than your little dagger to fight back. That's what destruction is for - you are a mage after all. You will always want the newest and highest level spells you can get because it will increase your damage output dramatically. They do, of course, cost a lot of mana, but you're going to be getting a huge mana pool anyway and if you're an Altmer it's not an issue. Note that while you can use Runes, it's not really necessary to use them and most of the time you're being aggressive, not defensive. You can safely skip them. Also, don't bother with the Intense Flames perk - we don't want them to run away, we want them to stand there like idiots and be burned to a crisp. Disintegrate is a tasty bonus, but if you have other perk priorities you can safely skip it. You should get Deep Freeze though.

    A quick overview of the three types of Destruction spells (doesn't require a big explanation, it's simple):

    Fire Spells do raw damage and cause targets that are on fire to take even more damage from subsequent attacks. Use against most targets, especially trolls and the undead (includes vampires).

    Frost spells damage health and stamina - use on heavily armoured and melee enemies.

    Shock Spells damage health and mana - use on mages to prevent them from casting at you.

    The exception is the Master spells, which obliterate anything. Which one you use pretty much comes down to, well, whichever you feel like using.

    Your Little Blade

    Ah, the dagger - without you this build would be a lot harder. The dagger is light, has a very fast attack and, critically, does 15x damage when you stealth attack and have the Assassin's Blade perk in the Sneak Tree. It is this that will make your dagger your Primary weapon - eventually, almost everything will die in one hit from it should you plan things right.

    But which one to use?

    Candidates:

    Glass: Since we're using light armour, you'll be able to max out the improvements to Glass Daggers and turn them into very deadly little tools, moreso than a Daedric Dagger you can't upgrade. You can also add your own enchantment(s) to suit your fancy.

    Daedric: You'll want to wear light armour regardless, but if you want to waste some perks to get Daedric smithing so you can upgrade a Daedric dagger fully, you will have a far more effective weapon than Glass. Again, you can add whatever enchantments you fancy.

    Blade of Woe: A very good dagger, better than Daedric, rewarded for completing a quest for the Dark Brotherhood. It has an absorb health enchantment on it, but you can make a more powerful one yourself.

    Mehrunes' Razor: A reward from Mehrunes Dagon for doing his bidding in the quest "Pieces of the Past", this dagger is similar to a daedric dagger with the exception that it has a 3% chance to instantly kill anything in the game. ANYTHING. It's not reliable, to be sure, but it worth getting simply because of that bonus. Of course, if you want your own enchantments, get a Daedric or glass dagger by all means - that enchantment will always work.

    *I personally use Mehrunes' Razor.

    The Clothes on Your Back

    Light Armour, all the way. It is quieter and does not encumber you as much as heavy. Plus, the Wind Walker perk gives you a stamina bonus for wearing it. You'll want to get Elven ASAP, and Glass ASAP after that. You'll be sticking with Glass until you get Dragonscale, which is the best Light Armour there is. You'll need to kill some Dragons though, and if you're like me, you're doing the main quest LAST, so you may have your Glass for quite a while.

    Alternatives:

    Shrouded Armour and Nightingale Armour (form the Dark Brotherhood and Thieves Guild respectively) are both excellent for stealth characters. They don't offer as much protection as the craftable armours, but provide useful enchantments to aid your abilities.

    Shrouded Armour gives you -

    50% poison resistance (armour)
    x2 backstab damage (gloves)
    20% more damage from bows (cowl)
    Muffled movement (boots)

    Nightingale Armour gives you (attributes vary by player's level) -

    Increased Stamina and Frost resistance (armour)
    muffled movement (boots)
    lockpicking is easier and one-handed attacks do more damage (gloves)
    Illusion spells cost less mana (hood)

    Which to take?

    The 2x backstab damage from the shrouded gloves is beast. It gives you 30x damage with your dagger. I would advocate wearing those gloves and everything else Nightingale, but there's a light armour perk that gives you an armour bonus for wearing a matching set of armour, which that would negate. Ultimately, it's up to you.

    *I took Nightingale. Being Dunmer, I had 50% resistance to Fire. Players lvl 32 and beyond get a 50% frost resistance from the armour piece, meaning I was now 50% resistant to two of the three forms of destruction magic. This made fighting mages easier (I slapped on my old Glass armour and later my Dragonscale armour when fighting dragons though). I had lockpicking maxed out, so the gloves made it even easier, and the hood allowed me to spam even more Illusion spells. Plus, it looks BADASS.

    Ok, I'm tired. Part 3 is coming soon. Feedback is appreciated. See ya 'round.
     
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  2. The Spectre of Skyrim

    The Spectre of Skyrim An Evil-turned-good guy

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    Part 3: Theorycrafting in Action - Playing the Game as a Nightblade

    When you begin you're going to want to acquire all the novice destruction and illusion spells. If you pick Altmer or High Elf, you'll already have a free one - one less spell tome to buy. From there, play however you want. I recommend not heading into the main quest too soon, however. Your primary mode of ranged attack is destruction and you will need better spells to take on the dragons. Clearing dungeons is not only a great way to try out tactics but also acquire a plethora of loot. I personally cleared every dungeon in the game before seriously following the quests, only doing those I could complete on my journey (and what a journey - spectacular!). You'll often find most of the spells you need without even having to buy the tomes, as they often pop up as random loot. Initially you'll have to take what daggers and armour you get, but remember: glass armour and daggers are your goal.

    Since you don't have invisibility yet, your sneaking must be cautious and careful. Until you have high sneak skill, enemies will be able to see you from a good distance, so stay in cover when on your approach. Even without the assassin's blade perk, you should still try to go for backstabs - they still do a lot of damage. Your best bet is to use the illusion spells you have to thin out opposition (mainly with fury) before going in - since you don't have assassin's blade and your sneak skill is low, it is difficult for you to sneak up on multiple enemies. You will need to rely on destruction magic for when you are discovered. Remember to snatch up any potions and alchemical ingredients you find. Specifically, hoard Heath, Mana, and Stamina potions, as well as the ingredients that make them. You'll get your alchemy skill up, and you'll stay alive too.

    Completing the College of Winterhold questline is a good idea. It's not difficult, and will net you many useful items, as well as the eventual title of Arch-Mage, giving you full access to the College's resources. Your office there is packed with storage, books, soul gems and alchemical ingredients. You can use this as your base of operations, giving you access to magical resources when needed. Of particular importance are Drevis Neloren and Faralda, Skyrim's Master Illusion and Destruction Wizards respectively. They can sell you any spell you may not have, and are the only way of getting the Master level spells. You aren't a high enough level to get them, though.

    Pefect time for a tangent:

    The Case for Robes

    Wearing robes will give you no armour, but will give you higher mana and/or better mana regeneration and/or reduced spell cost. The Arch-Mage's Robes you get from completing the College of Winterhold questline are very good. However, it is a big tradeoff - when you do have to fight, you will be very vulnerable. For this to work, you need a large mana pool and will likely need Flesh spells from the Alteration school (which are useful anyway but particularly so for robe-wearers). Even then, I recommend keeping a set of Light Armour on hand for boss battles and other tough fights.

    *End of Tangent

    When upgrading stats at level-ups, put 1 point in stamina for every 2 in health and 3 in mana.

    Middle of the Road (level 30 - level 50)

    As your sneak skill gets higher, you will probably notice that enemies cannot see you when sneaking from an increasingly close distance. By the time you max out the skill (which doesn't take long for a stealth character), you will be able to walk in front of people and only have them notice you within 10-15m. This, plus Assassin's Blade, makes it far easier to not get into fights. Cutting throats, along with your Frenzy spell, will be your primary modes of attack, though you'll still need destruction for the occasional boss battle.

    Seek out Daedric artifacts an dother unique items to help you - Azura's star is worth the time if you use your own enchanted dagger. And of course, there's Mehrunes' Razor.

    And consider getting far enough in the Dark Brotherhood/Thieves Guild quests to get their respective stealth armours. Nightingale+Shadowmere makes you look like a horseman of the Apocalypse.

    Post-Invisibility

    Once you hit lvl75 Illusion, you can buy Invisibility from Drevis Neloren. Now, you have several ways oyu can play the game:

    Invis+Backstab: Simple. You go invisible, backstab the enemy, and repeat for everyone you come across.

    Frenzy+Invis+Backstab: Thin the enemy out with Frenzy, until one or two (or however many are resistant) are left, then invis+backstab. Just like you've been doing up to this point, but with Invis.

    The Ghost: Invis+Calm/Fear spells - the ultimate stealth character. You just spam invis and literally run past everyone. It's perfectly possible. When you are seen, you pop a Calm or Fear-type spell and keep going.

    My suggestion: mix it up. Invis>backstab gets old after a while. I recommend mixing it up. Do the Ghost routine for the Thieves guild, or for any kind of theft, for that matter. Use the Frenzy+Backstab routine for clearing dungeons - it's quite fun to watch your opponents kill each other. And for assasination missions or for taking out a particular target (read: Dark Brotherhood), Invis_backstab works great. You could even just go all-out destruction mage, even going invis when your health/mana is low, then popping back out and surprising him with a fresh volley. The fact is that you have a wide range of options to deal with your enemies because of your character's hybrid class nature -so do what you feel like.

    Secondary Skills

    Between lvl50 and lvl 60 you should have all the perks in Illusion, Destruction (except Rune Master and Intense Flames), Sneak and Light Armour trees. At that point, you'll want to complete the Destruction and Illusion Ritual spells from their respective teachers at the College of Winterhold in order to obtain the Master-level spells in each.

    Now what? You still have 20 or more perks to spend. Well, now you can pick some other skills to invest in. I recommend levelling up Alteration as you play through the game so that by the time you have all the perks you need, you can get some decent Alteration spells and perks. Magic Resistance, Atronach and Stability are good perks, and it may even be worth spending the perks to get to master: if you have a good mana pool and/or good mana cost-reduction enchantments, Dragonhide, the Master Alteration Flesh spell (also from a Ritual Spell quest, this time from Tolfdir), gives you the max damage reduction possible from armour (80%), meaning you can now wear robes if you wish. The other master spell, Mass Paralysis, is great as well - a perfect oh-plops button, and also great for neutralizing groups of enemies so you can safely kill them. Invis > run up to the group > Mass Paralysis > Kill - And for if you're being chased by guards and don't want to get a higher bounty from killing them.

    You could invest in enchanting - I chose Alchemy instead. With no soul gems, smithing materials and jewelry taking up my carrying capacity, I could finally make all the poisons I had ever wanted. No longer did I have to chose between poisons and potions - I could have both. My potion collection is gigantic. I spent a couple perks to get the perk in the pickpocket tree that gives you more carrying capacity, then spent all my remaining perks in Alchemy (note: my legit character is only 54; I tested this by using console commands to get my level up; I did not use that character afterwards, I am not like that).

    Please tell me how this guide worked for you. If you have any more tips on being a Nightblade, or have any feedback please post it.
     
  3. shadrox

    shadrox Newbie of skyrim

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    a very detailed guide for the class, i really enjoy myself reading the whole thing. But i do have a question in mind, for the class.

    Is it alright if i dual-wield daggers while playing this class and instantly switching to destruction spells when the time is rough?
     
  4. The Spectre of Skyrim

    The Spectre of Skyrim An Evil-turned-good guy

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    I suppose...I always have an illusion spell in the other hand.

    If you think you can afford the perks, I guess.
     
  5. zFrenzyy

    zFrenzyy Assassin at your service

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    Illusion, Evasion, and the Art of Mastering "STEALTH" in Skyrim.

    I shall click and read
     
  6. ShadowMage

    ShadowMage Article Writer

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    An amazing thread. You have a talent for guides.
     
  7. RebeliousKing19

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    I use a build a lot like this one, except archery rather than destruction I am a lvl 22 Argonian and I must say this is probably the best ( and when I say best I mean my favorite) build in the game
    By the way, great guide
     
  8. The Spectre of Skyrim

    The Spectre of Skyrim An Evil-turned-good guy

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    I would hazard a guess that it probably is the best build in the game. Honestly, once you max out sneak, get 5/5 in the Armsman perk in the One-Handed tree (which doubles your dagger's damage), and have invis, the only thing you have to fight are dragons. Everyone else can simply be walked up to and instakilled.

    I do think Invis should be a Master Spell (the ONLY master spell for Illusion, IMO), and should have a considerable mana cost, because as it is the only time I actually have to fight are when a) I fight a dragon or b) I choose not to sneak. I consider it this build overpowered, actually. I didn't ever think it would be, but lo and behold...
     
  9. Chokain

    Chokain New Member

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    Great guide.

    I am currently playing a very similar build, with a few differences. I gota say its the most fun iv had in the game.

    One dif is I went conjouration instead of dest, found that bound weps help out early on and being able to summon or rais dead a tank helps a lot.

    Also I feel like puting points into armor is kina a waste, you almost never get hit anyway so the points are better spent elswhere.

    Illusion is awsome. It gives youb so much control over the battle. One point I didn't see in ur guide was that u can calm the enemy then backstab them, works great.
     
  10. Skullrattla

    Skullrattla Button Pusher

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    This looks just what I could do with reading, I am planning this kind of character for a second playthrough.
    Cheers

    Mehrune's Razor is killa.

    I haven't read all of the posts, but , using destruction against dragons is problematic as it's too easy to hit NPCs fighting the dragon.
     
  11. CutterRogue1980

    CutterRogue1980 New Member

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    Been Rollin' Rogue since I started gaming...great guide. I have a lvl 35 stealth stabber, do you think I can re-purpose my rogue by pouring the remaining perks into illusion, and destruction?
     
  12. The Spectre of Skyrim

    The Spectre of Skyrim An Evil-turned-good guy

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    Have you got Light Armour and Sneak maxed out? You'll need another 28 or 29 perks to get everything in Illusion and everything you need in Destruction.

    Also, have you been using either of them? Though it's possible to get the perks, your spells may be gimped as your level will make the enemies tougher but you'll be working with Novice and Apprentice spells, whereas if you'd started off the bat using them you'd have Adept by now. Honestly you'd have to test it out to see if your illusions work on the enemies ad if destruction kills them quick enough.

    Lastly, have you put any points into your mana? If not, you'll have a hard time casting all the spells you need.
     
  13. DarthSpecturm

    DarthSpecturm Member

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    Great guide! I too am using the nightblade build. I recommend getting a mod that allows spell sneak attacks. Spell Sneak Attacks 2 at Skyrim Nexus - Skyrim mods and community
    And also getting light armor and some one hand perks instead of alteration.
    This mod works great if you are also a vampire (from dawnguard). If you are lucky, and find two pieces of sneak skill increase armor, you are virtually undetectable, unless you do something stupid.
    This build is probably the most powerful in Skyrim, when combined with dawnguard and dragonborn.
    If you get the dragonbone dagger (highest damage dagger, tied with BoW), and enchant it with chaos damage enchant, combined with the destruction perks, you could do over 30 000 damage in one regular backstab with critical charge perk.
     
  14. Psiberzerker

    Psiberzerker Author

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    Great thread, build, and guide. About he only thing I'd add is Vampire Dust. You don't start off with Invisibility, so until you grind up your Illusion, this is a good alternative for those few situations where Invisibility is the best way to go. Also, a Pure Assassin (Meaning no Magic) can use this instead of Alchemy (Adding another skill to an already bloated Build Strategy) if you can get it done with the short duration.

    Like a lot of folks, you believe that starting skills make no difference except in the beginning, but that really depends on your build strategy. If you are limiting yourself to a few skills, and the crucial perks you need for the basic style (Like Assassin's blade) then you actually Want the racial bonuses so you don't level as high to unlock the perks, or stop at a lower level when you max out those skills. This is effective, because at lower level, you face lower tier enemies (More Bandits, and fewer Marauders, if any.)

    On the Other Hand, multiple discipline builds like the Nightblades require a lot of skills, and gateway perks to get the higher level effects that make them so powerful. For instance, Quiet Casting, Assassin's Blade, and Expert Illusion so you don't have to invest as much in Magicka, and can have more Stamina for Silent Rolls, Critical Charges, and Double Power Attacks. Therefore, you want to start most of your skills at 15, so you earn more levels, and therefore more Perk/Stat points so you can reach your goal without training non-sequitor skills like Speech, and Lockpicking. In this kind of build, prioritise Weapon skills, because they get more damage from being higher, and get more experience from ore damage, so level up much quicker in the beginning. Also, Pickpocket, because XP is based on success, and if you only have 15 in it, you can't succeed to earn experience to get better at it, and have a chance of success. That means you HAVE to spend the gold to train it higher, because you don't have the Pickpocket skill to steel it back. (Might be nice if you want 2 Blades of Woe.) This is pretty much the only skill that's completely broken likeat, Sneak is harder to get up from 15, but at least theres alternative ways to train it like Shelf Draugr, and sniping from maximum Range.

    At the far end of the spectrum, you have the 80 Perk build using Bookshelf training, or multiclass grinds (Starting off 1 handed, and using the Ebony Blade to get 100 2 Handed to unlock more perks.) At this point, starting skills are a moot point, other than how hard it is to train them up from the beginning, if you do it the long hard way. In this case, Orc is probably your best choice, because they start with 2 legs of the Crafting triangle (Smithing, and Enchanting) so you can get that over with early, before the Soft Level Cap makes levels require twice as much Experience past 50. Only in that case are starting skills completely eclipsed as far as how many perks you get for any combined Skill Level.
     
  15. Psiberzerker

    Psiberzerker Author

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    When you earn them, the Master Robes of Illusion rock for a Nightblade. I know you're using Destruction (Which is in the classic class) but this is a backup for when it all goes wrong, and you probably don't want to waste a 3rd of your maximum number of Apparel Enchantment slots making it free. However, the most OP you get as a Nightblade is with Invisibility in one hand, and your Dagger in the other, because you can serially Backstab everyone in the room, and PUFF back out of sight, just like Shadow Warrior. This takes a lot of Magicka, unless Illusion is free, but you're invisible, so you have long enough to let the Alarm die down, set up your next target, and let your Magcika recover. With Magicka Regeneration, this happens faster, so you can get onto the next Backstab... Hence, Master Robes of Illusion.

    And finally, they look like a Trenchcoat on a male Avatar:
    [​IMG]

    And that's cool. This outfit:
    [​IMG]
    Stacks up 39% Fortify Magicka, (With Expert Illusion, Invisibility costs about a tenth as much to cast.) 150% Magicka regeneration, Muffle (So you don't have to cast it,) double Backstab damage (Up to 30X your listed Dagger damage) +30 to every stat, and 15 points of Absorb Health. There's a little Armor too, but when you're never seen, getting hit isn't much of a threat if you know how to use it.

    Like the OP said, keep some Light Armor for when you Do want to fight, or to proc Wind Walker for sprinting cross country, and Dragon Attacks. (Also generally safer from Sabercat Ambushes, though I just ride Shadowmere around...)
     
  16. JoshHetfield

    JoshHetfield New Member

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    This is a good build but I would use one handed and conjuration. I've done the build before. Conjuration was amazing and that conjure bow spell was a beast. If any dragon or boss was giving me trouble, I could just summon a storm atronach. Conjuration is really easy to level up as well. I used one handed because sometimes I felt like running out there and carving people up. You know your characters a beast when you can just run up to a frost giant, fus ro dah it and then take it out in 5 hits :)
     

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