Skyrim gives players an entire nation to explore — the world is packed with quests and characters to meet, but most of us are only going to go through all that content with one character. Why limit yourself when there’s an entire world of ridiculously weird, insanely powerful (or absurdly weak) character builds available to experiment with.
When I replay Skyrim, I want to mix things up and really force myself to explore all the aspects of the game I might’ve missed the first time around. That’s what these builds have to offer. Some of them are game-breakingly OP, others are purposefully silly to keep you on your toes and provide serious challenge. We’ve found underpowered builds, overpowered builds, and everything in between. And we’re going to share 20 of our favorites with you.
These are the 20 builds that make us want to drop everything and replay Skyrim right now.
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#1: Richest Adventurer In Skyrim Build
- Requirements: Transmute Conjuration Spell
Transmute is one of the best spells in the game when it comes to making money. If you want to replay Skyrim and don’t want to cheat, you can earn easy cash with this single spell — just grab Transmute from Halted Stream Camp near Whiterun (its on the table) and start casting. Transmute changes common Iron Ore into Silver Ore, then a second use turns it into Gold Ore. Just rest between uses, and you can turn one of the most common materials of Skyrim into an infinite money-making scheme.
#2: Instant Summoner Army Build
- Requirements: Conjuration 100, Dead Thrall, Flame Thrall, Frost Thrall, Storm Thrall
While we’re talking about Conjuration, here’s a cool build to give yourself a powerful army of creatures to permanently protect you from any enemies. These companions stick with you always, and you can always simply resummon them after they die. Most players probably don’t mess with Conjuration Spells for long, but if you reach Conjuration 90, you’ll unlock a special quest in the College of Winterhold to become a Conjuration Master — and the reward is these permanent monster summon spells. You can easily grind to Conjuration 90 at the very start of the game by casting Soul Trap on your horse for an hour, or by attacking any of your own raised dead creatures.
#3: The Vamp Slap Build
- Requirements: Vampire Lord Form, Vampiric Grip
The Vampire Lord powers available in the Dawnguard expansion aren’t that impressive in the late-game. To really get OP, you need to get creative — and that creativity comes in the form of the hilariously broken Vampiric Grip power. This becomes available once you level up to the second perk tier for Vampire Lords. Vampiric Grip allows you to force-choke an enemy, holding them mid-air then launching them. Instead of launching them at a wall, try launching enemies directly into the sky. The fall damage will rip them apart, and most bosses are stuck in high-ceiling arenas. So this power is almost always useful. Throwing goofy ragdolls around isn’t just fun. Its a great way to win.
#4: Instakill Knife Build
- Requirements: Vauldr’s Lucky Dagger, Shrouded Gauntlet, Assassin’s Blade Perk, Sneak 50
Want to kill everyone with a little knife? Just combine this weapon, armor, and perk. Get Vauldr’s Lucky Dagger from Moss Mother Cavern, Shrouded Gauntlets by joining the Dark Brotherhood or killing Dark Brotherhood assassins, and the Assassin’s Blade Perk from the Sneak skill tree. The Assassin’s Blade Perk + Shrouded Gauntlets give you a +x30 normal damage bonus to attacks with daggers. If you’re an Orc with the Berserker Rage power active, that doubles to +x60! And with Vauldr’s Lucky Dagger, you’ll always score Critical Hits. The Vauldr’s Lucky Dagger bonus isn’t an enchantment, so you’ll always get +25% critical hit chances. Forever!
#5: Stealth Paralysis Sniper Build
- Requirements: Stealth, Any Bow, Fiery Soul Trap Enchantment
If you’re looking to play as a killer archer, you can make a near-perfect weapon of infinite paralysis with a single unique enchantment. You’ll need to get the Steel Battleaxe of Fiery Souls and extract the Fiery Soul Trap Enchantment from it — the unique axe is found in the Ironbind Barrow. Next, get yourself any bow (Daedric or any other powerful bow works best) and enchant it. Add Paralysis (1-5 Sec) + Fiery Soul Trap enchantments, then get yourself a Grand Soul Gem. Then you’re set! You’ll paralyze enemies every two arrows, refill your Soul Gem with each kill, and recharge your bow infinitely. Combine that with any of the Stealth perks and you’re a killing machine that can’t be touched by any enemy.
#6: Dwarven Crossbow Assassin Build
- Requirements: Enhanced Dwarven Crossbow, Bow Perks, Sneak Perks
The Dawnguard DLC doesn’t just add Vampire Lords. You’ll also gain access to the most powerful ranged weapon in the game — at least as far as base damage goes. The Enhanced Dwarven Crossbow becomes available in Fort Dawnguard after completing the “Ancient Technology” quests. Then you can smith them — the Enhanced Dwarven Crossbow is the best, and becomes increasingly more powerful as you unlock Bow skills and Sneak skills. Oh, and you can get powerful magic-infused crossbow bolts that explode on contact to deal even more damage. The long reload time is the only drawback.
#7: At-Home Alchemy Build
- Requirements: Windstad Manor
Become a green thumb with the Hearthfire DLC, allowing you to grow your own ingredients at home — and making some of the best alchemy recipes so much easier to make. To become a real alchemy fiend, acquire Windstad Manor for the Greenhouse and the Fishery. Fish are important for almost every powerful poison recipe — and the Greenhouse lets you grow anything infinitely. If you want to make money, mix Salmon Roe + Nordic Barnacles + Garlic to create an incredibly valuable potion. There are endless potions can can make to abuse the system and make yourself infinitely powerful. For more information on alchemy in Skyrim, the wiki has a great article.
#8: Orc Berserker Rage Build
- Requirements: Just be an Orc!
The Orc probably isn’t your first choice when it comes to playable species in Skyrim, but they’re absolutely worth a second look. If you’ve never experienced the Orc lifestyle, you just have to give it a try. First, all Orc Strongholds are available to you from the beginning of the game — so you can go straight to Gloombound Mine and collect all the Ebony Ore you’ll ever need. You also start with the Berserker Rage power, which when active makes your Orc take half damage and deal double damage. Even sneak attack damage is doubled! Even bows deal double damage. Any physical attack works here, so Orcs are ideal for any melee build.
#9: Sneak Attack Master Build
- Requirements: Shadow Warrior Perk, 100 Sneak
To become a true stealth master, you’ll want to get the Shadow Warrior Perk — the Master perk on the Sneak skill tree. It takes a lot of grinding, but this perk is absolutely absurd when it comes to scoring sneak attacks. All you have to do is crouch (enter sneak mode) and your opponents will briefly become vulnerable to sneak attacks. Again and again and again. This works even better with ranged weapons, but any weapon (at any range) will do the trick. Combine this the Enhanced Dwarven Crossbow or Vauldr’s Lucky Dagger + Assassin’s Blade + Shrouded Gauntlets, and nothing will ever be a challenge again.
#10: Fast XP Aetherial Crown Build
- Requirements: Aetherial Crown
The Aetherial Crown, when used correctly, can give you a permanent +50% XP earning rate for all of your most-used skills. To get it, you need to complete the “Lost To The Ages” side-quest, with the Aetherial Crown being one of three rewards you can choose from. The Aetherial Crown lets you keep the effects of two Standing Stones at once. So, grab the Lover’s Stone and then the Guardian Stone that fits your build (Warrior / Thief / Mage) — just make sure the Lover’s Stone is attached to your Crown. Then you can sleep for an additional XP bonus and put the crown back on to regain the Lover’s Stone XP bonus. Mix them all together and you’re sitting at a +50% XP increase.
#11: Fisticuffs Of Fire Build
- Requirements: Khajit -or- Argonian, Fists of Steel Perk, Daedric Gauntlets
Want to become an unstoppable punching machine? Play as a Khajit or Argonian (for natural bonuses to punching), unlock the Fists of Steel perk (Heavy Armor 30), then put on the heaviest gauntlets you can get your hands on. You’ll also want to add the Fortify Unarmed enchantment to your gauntlets to deal even more damage — you can get the enchantment from the Gloves of the Pugilist in Riften. Now you’re a real contender. The Fists of Steel perk adds the base armor rating of your gauntlets to your punching damage. This isn’t exactly practical, but its fun to try!
#12: Illusionist Build
- Requirements: Illusion Perks
We haven’t talked about one of the best magic trees for causing chaos. Illusion magic allows you to send enemies into a frenzy, attacking anything nearby, then Calm them and score an instant sneak attack. You don’t even need to be sneaky — but sneak does make life easier when you’re trying to avoid conflict. There are multiple Illusion spells dedicated purely to making enemies attack any other nearby enemies ( Fury / Frenzy / Frenzy Rune / Mayhem), and there are Illusion spells to turn invisible, so it’s a natural combo with sneak. You’ll need to complete Winterhold College to unlock the best Illusion magic, but its a great underdog choice.
#13: Spoony Bard Build
- Requirements: “Become A Bard” Mod
One of the most hilarious and weirdest builds you can become for maximum chaos. If you thought Illusionist was fun, give the “Become A Bard” mod a try here. The mod is mostly used for immersive roleplayers. You can play music (over 200 songs!) in a tavern for a free room and some tips. If you’re a good bard, patrons will applaud and gather around. Or you can play for the jarl for random enchanted rewards! Then there’s the Bard’s College quest-line! It’s all wholesome, until you find two specific instruments that cause everyone within earshot to lose their minds and attack each other. As a Bard, you can gather big groups of people, then unleash the unruly mob to do your dirty work.
#14: Hardcore Survivalist Build
- Requirements: “Wet and Cold” Mod, “Campfire” Mod, “iNeed” Mod, No Fast-Traveling, Waiting, or Exploits
Give yourself the true survivalist experience with this combination of mods that add more hardcore survival simulation elements to Skyrim. These mods force you to eat and drink, and cause debilitating effects if your character isn’t properly dressed (or doesn’t deal with) the extreme weather of Skyrim. This is no way to play the game your first time, but for second playthroughs, it’s a fun additional layer of challenge that’ll make you rethink everything about travelling and exploring in Skyrim. Find the “Wet and Cold” mod here, the “Campfire” mod here, and the “iNeed” mod here.
#15: Heavy Armor Battlemage Build
- Requirements: One-Handed, Heavy Armor, Conjuration, Illusion
Here’s a fun build that combines One-Handed, Heavy Armor, and magic to boost your combat ability. Instead of just becoming a giant armor / melee tank, we’re going to be a tough warrior that uses magic to enhance yourself and deal with lots of different situations creatively. Use Conjuration to summon allies, using Illusion to frenzy enemies or muffle yourself to aid in sneaking, and give yourself a big axe to swing to really cave in some skulls. There’s nothing special required for this build, and you don’t want to waste too much perk investment in Sneak — stick to the main skills and maybe some crafting for good measure.
#16: “Pacifist” Killer Build
- Requirements: 0 Kills For Fun
The “Pacifist” Build isn’t really pacifist at all — it’s just a way to keep your kill counter at zero. The trick is finding new unique ways to kill your enemies that doesn’t increase the counter. You can use Vampire Lord Vampiric Grip power to kill with gravity, or you can inflict stacks of bleed. For whatever reason, bleed doesn’t count as a kill if an enemy dies from bleed damage you applied. Or you can frenzy enemies and make them get kills for you. Combine all those techniques, and you’re a true pacifist! Your kill counter will never increase, but you’ll be killing your way across Skyrim all the same. Check out this in-depth guide for more fake-pacifist build tips.
#17: Blood Shield Basher Build
- Requirements: Berserker Rage (Orc Power), Targe of the Blooded Shield
Why fight with weapons when you can fight with a shield instead? Play as a Half-Orc, and acquire the Targe of the Blooded in the Alfland Dwemer Ruins. Defeat the Redguard named Umana to acquire this unique shield — it deals 3 points of bleeding damage for 5 seconds after each bash. You can acquire it early, and using the Berserker Rage Orc power doubles your strength. Rank up Heavy Armor and Block and you’ll become a bleed-inducing nightmare tank!
#18: Mad Poisoner Build
- Requirements: Shiv, Alchemy Perks
This absolutely insane build is made for one thing and one thing only — using something weak to poison everyone around you. Unlock every Alchemy Perk, and apply Fortify Alchemy enchantments to all your gear to improve alchemy as much as possible. Once you’re finally ready, you’ll want to craft poisons, and use your shiv like a “syringe”… why would you want to do this? Just to feel like a mad scientist, of course! Throw on some extra mad science stuff too. Charm your enemies! Raise the dead! It isn’t practical, but it is fun.
#19: Trapper Build
- Requirements: Bows, Swords, Spears, Hide & Leather Armor
Live off the land only with this back-to-basic build. Make money by hunting game and selling pelts. Only use weapons you’ve crafted yourself — armor like Hide and Leather can be made with the animals you’re hunting. For the best possible experience, download the “HunterBorn” mod here. The mod completely overhauls hunting in the game, making it more in-depth, difficult, and rewarding. Becoming a true hunter can be fun in vanilla, but mods will seriously improve this experience. Check out even more hunting-centric mods here.
#20: Full Mage Build
- Requirements: No weapons. Illusion, Alteration, Destruction Magic.
Playing as a Full Mage — no weapons or heavy armor — is surprisingly difficult in Skyrim. Dropping all weapons and relying entirely on the power of your casting and conjuration makes you think about magic. Destruction isn’t as useful as you might think, with Illusion and Alteration making life easier with spells to manage enemies. Alteration is mostly useful for paralyzing spells and armor. Illusion for sneaking, calming enemies, and frenzying others. Destruction when you need to protect yourself, and potions to keep yourself alive. Add the Transmute Alteration spell to your repertoire, and you’ll become a rich mage. Being a mage ain’t cheap.
And that’s twenty wildly different builds you can use to break the game (or challenge yourself) when replaying Skyrim. There are endless builds to discover in the huge world of Skyrim. You can pretend to be a caveman and only use a club! Or go for the full villager playthrough as a lowly peasant — fork-only builds? Yes, please.