Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Character Build Guide: Rogue

My character, the Wood-Elf thief/assassin/hunter (let’s just call him a “rogue”) Roland

Skyrim is a massive RPG that allows you to make pretty much any character you want. While this is an awesome feature, it can also be quite a lot for the average gamer. Since there are no classes to choose from, the player is forced to build their character  from scratch without any guidelines, and with so many skills and play choices to choose from the novice player can quickly become overwhelmed. That’s where this guide comes in: I knew what I wanted from my Skyrim character and through over sixty hours of character development (plus hundreds of hours of playtime logged into Oblivion) I believe I have the information you need to make an unstoppable rogue character. The rogue is also the build you will want if you have dreams of being a sneaky thief or deadly assassin as well.

Race: Of the eight races available in Skyrim I would recommend a few as being built for the rogue class. The following three races have initial skills or abilities that are beneficial to a rogue:

  • Wood-Elf/Bosmer: The Wood-Elf receives a +10 to archery as well as +5 to alchemy, light armor, lockpicking, pickpocket and sneak. Wood-Elves also have a 50% resistance to poison and disease (meaning there’s a 50% chance you won’t catch a disease or be affected by poison). The Wood-Elf is my personal choice because this rogue build is heavy on archery and sneaking, and not having to worry about diseases is always a nice perk.
  • Argonian: Another great rogue choice with a +10 to lockpicking and +5 to alteration, light armor, pickpocket, restoration and sneak. Argonians also have a 50% resistance to disease and also have waterbreathing, meaning you will be able to hide in a body of water to avoid enemies that are chasing you.
  • Khajit: These felines receive a +15 to unarmed combat as well as +10 to sneak,  +5 to alchemy, archery, lockpicking, pickpocket and one-handed. The really neat thing about the Khajit is that they have night vision which allows them to see easily at night (which just so happens to be the best time to sneak.)
The Khajit make a great rogue thanks to their night vision
Any of these three races will make excellent rogues. They all receive an initial bonus to sneak, lockpicking and pickpocket, which are the bread-and-butter of the rogue build. Since the game is so open as to creating own character, you could technically make a sneaky Orc if you wanted to, but I wouldn’t recommend it. The Wood-Elf, Argonian and Khajit are the three races you want to look into if you want to make a really solid rogue.

Experience/ XP: The next thing I want to explain is how XP works in Skyrim. This is not your traditional RPG where you receive XP for completing quests. Heck, it’s not even like Fallout (Bethesda’s other epic franchise) where you receive XP for killing enemies and finding new locations. There are technically two types of leveling in Skyrim. The first is leveling skills. As the level of a skill increases, be it sneak or light armor, your character’s general level will increase. For example, let’s say your character is at level four and your one-handed skill is at level eight. You are currently fighting a bandit and using a one-handed sword. Each hit you register on the bandit will increase the one-handed weapon skill (that’s right, you gain XP for each hit, not each kill), and after three more hits you max out the bar. The one-handed weapon skill will increase to level nine and your character’s current level bar will increase a little bit as well. Once you increase enough of these skill bars you will gain enough XP to increase your character’s overall level. There are several ways to increase these skills:

  • Use: Pretty straightforward, just as I explained it right there. As you use a skill you will get better at it. The more hits you take increase your light armor, the more you sneak around undetected raises your sneak skill, and the more potions you make increase your alchemy.
  • Skill Book: There are tons of books scattered around Skyrim, and reading one is as simple as walking up to it and picking it up. Some of these books are skill books and picking them up will actually raise the level of a particular skill. How do you tell the difference between a skill book and a crummy ol’ normal book? Look at the value; if a book has a value of 20gold or more, pick it up. It might be a skill book that will increase a stat (usually associated with the title) or it might be a map book that adds a new location to the map. Just remember, if it’s worth 20 or more it’s worth picking it up to see what it is.
  • Training: You can also find NPCs throughout the game who will train you in a particular skill, though it will cost you some gold (10x the skill level up to skill level 50, and then 20x the skill level up to 90.)  A few things about trainers to remember:
    • The max they can train a skill is to level 90.
    • When you train in a skill, you don’t get XP to raise the skill, you simply gain just enough XP to level up the skill. Since this is the case it is better to train in a skill shortly after raising that skill manually, as you will be getting a bigger bang for your buck.
    • It is harder to raise a skill manually at higher levels, so I would hold off on training with the best trainers (masters) until that skill level is somewhere between 80-85 (remember, they can’t train above 90, so 85 is probably the best time to go to them.)
Skills: So I’m talking quite a lot about skills, and you’re probably asking yourself, “well, what skills do I look at?!” There are 18 skills available to all players in Skyrim and they all fall under one of three categories: warrior, mage and thief. Remember that these are not classes so you are free to create a character that wears heavy armor but uses magic. The thing is that if you try to do everything in these skills you will level up too fast and not be proficient in any particular skill, making you weaker. There are five skills that will be your main focus throughout your rogue playthrough, and I have also listed the perks you will want to invest your points in after leveling up your character (note that not all fall under the “thief” classification):
The skill screen lets you see the level for all your skills, as well as your overall level at the top
  • Sneak: This is your biggest skill to work on. Sneaking enables you to move about quietly and undetected, allowing you to strike your opponent quickly with devastating sneak attacks. Sneaking is also easy to level up, all you have to do is keep sneaking at all times. Sure, you will walk around a little slower, but it will result in quick leveling of the sneak skill that grant some pretty insane perks. I recommend that you max the sneak skill out all the way, so you will want to invest in all the perks along the way, but these are the really important ones:
    • Stealth: The basic sneak skill, it simply increases the likelihood of you sneaking around undetected
    • Muffled Movement: Your armor is less likely to make noise
    • Backstab and Assassin’s Blade: These two are going to be a must-have for any rogue. Backstab increases the sneak attack damage with a blade by 3X, while Assassin’s Blade increases it by a whopping 15X! With a dagger or one-handed sword in hand you will be able to sneak up on virtually any enemy (including giants and trolls) and kill them with just one stab of your sword. Oh, and in case you didn’t know, to perform a sneak attack simply sneak up close enough behind an enemy and then hold down the attack button
    • Deadly Aim: Your most important perk as a rogue as it deals 3X damage to arrow attacks while in sneak mode. This build focuses on archery as the main form of combat and you will be able to take out most enemies with just one arrow from a distance.
    • Silence: Makes you virtually undetectable whether your walking or running
Spend your skill points on perks to make your character even stronger, or sneakier
  • Archery: The rogue is based on moving about silently and unseen, so what better way to dispatch your enemies than with an arrow to the back? Archery will be the rogue’s best friend as you will eventually be able to kill enemies with just one arrow while never being seen. The biggest thing to worry about is that you always have plenty of arrows on you, though they don’t cost too much and they don’t contribute to your equipment weight, so feel free to carry as many as you want. Here are the perks that are really important to archery:
    • Overdraw: For every point you put into this perk, your bows will do 20% more damage. Maxing this out with five points will give your bows 100% more damage to foes. You’ll definitely want to upgrade this perk as often as you can to get the best attack bonuses
    • Eagle Eye: A pretty neat perk that allows you to zoom in on enemies from afar (much like using a scope)
    • Steady Hand: When you zoom in with Eagle Eye, this perk will also slow down time, making it easier to hit moving targets
    • Quick Shot: Let’s you draw back the bow 30% faster, allowing you to attack quicker
    • Critical Shot: Increases the chances of scoring a critical hit
  • Light Armor: As sneaky and stealthy as you may try to be, there will always be times when enemies get the close enough to you to start doing damage. You’ll want to use light armor simply because it’s quieter and let’s you move faster. Sure, heavy armor offers more protection but you won’t be able to sneak up on anyone while clanking around in metal armor. Here are some of the perks I recommend for light armor:
    • Agile Defender: Each point you put into this perk increases your light armor defense by 20% (max of 100%). Since light armor doesn’t offer as much protection as heavy armor you will want to use this perk to increase the effectiveness of your armor
    • Custom Fit: You will be granted an additional armor bonus if you’re covered in all light armor, which means a helmet, gloves, clothes and boots
    • Matching Set: You receive another armor bonus for wearing a matched set of armor (you will be getting plenty of these through working with the Thieve’s Guild and Dark Brotherhood, which will be discussed further down)
    • Wind Walker: With this perk your stamina regenerates 50% faster as long as you are wear all light armor. Stamina is quite important for the rogue, particularly when using the Eagle Eye perk, so this will help you fire off more zoomed-in shots
  • Lockpicking: You will naturally improve this skill as you open locked chests and doors, but I wouldn’t recommend spending any skill points on improving it. The lockpicking mini game is fairly easy to get used to and you shouldn’t have too much trouble opening locks. Also, there are more than enough lockpicks available for purchase in Skyrim so you will soon find yourself having 400+ in your inventory
  • Pickpocket: You will also be doing plenty of pickpocketing, whether it’s for a quest or just to feed your own greedy need. One thing I want to say about pickpocketing is that you will only get experience for doing one item at a time. So sneak behind someone, activate the pickpocket attempt, and select an item to steal. If it’s successful then leave the menu and immediately initiate a new pickpocket attempt. This way each successful attempt will count as one pickpocket and you will get a heck of a lot more experience. I also recommend doing a quick save before attempting to rob someone so that if it fails you can quickly reload to that point and try again.  Pickpocketing is a bit tougher than picking locks so I do recommend activating a few perks if you ever have spare skill points:
    • Light Fingers: Each point you put into this perk increases the odds of a successful pickpocket attempt
    • Night Thief: Increases the likelihood that you will pickpocket someone who is sleeping
    • Extra Pockets: You can carry 100 pounds more of items and equipment

Quests: As a rogue you should really look into working your way through the Thieve’s Guild and Dark Brotherhood questlines. You can start the Thieve’s Guild quests in Riften (southeast corner of the map) and the Dark Brotherhood quests by heading to Windhelm (northeast of Whitetun). Here’s what you’ll get for working with them:

  • Special items and armor: Completing quests for either faction will get you some pretty nice armor sets. Not only will these give you better armor protection than the generic light armor you will find, but they often give stat bonuses such as additional archery damage or better pickpocket chances
Receiving equipment from factions will boost your skills even more
  • Experience: While you don’t get XP for completing quests, you will be doing plenty of sneaking, lockpicking and pickpocketing during these missions which will help you level up those skills and your character
  • Gold: Both the Thieve’s Guild and Dark Brotherhood will pay you well for succeeding in your missions. I will say that the Brotherhood will pay more for a successful assassination than the Thieve’s Guild will pay for a successful heist
Combat: The most important thing you can do as a rogue is stick to the shadows and remain undiscovered. You want to make sure that all your attacks are sneak attacks, since they will do more damage (done by holding down the attack button.) I highly recommend sticking with archery as with a great bow and some perks you will be able to take out enemies fairly quickly. Feel free to whip out a one-handed weapon like a dagger if you want to get up close and personal to your enemies.
You will also get some sweet weapons from completing faction quests
And don’t worry…this rogue build will be able to survive against tough enemies. Eventually you will be strong enough to fell a giant with two sneak attack arrows, and a dragon can be defeated with about eight arrows (but good luck sneaking up on one.) Just make sure you have plenty of potions handy in case things get hairy.
General Tips: Here are some general tips that will help you early on in the game
  • Guardian Stones: After completing the prologue and you are able to venture off on your own, follow the man south. He will lead you to the Guardian Stones which contain the Warrior, Mage and Thief Stones. Activating one of these will net you 20% XP when performing a skill under that category. Naturally you will want to select the Thief Stone as it gives you 20% more XP to sneak, lockpicking, pickpocketing, speech (generally upgrades through buying and selling items), alchemy(making potions) and light armor. However, once you happen across the Lover Stone I would recommend activating that, since it gives you 15% more XP to all skills.
  • Buy a House: The first main town you will run across is Whiterun and I highly recommend you save up 5,000 gold as quickly as possible to purchase a house there. Having a house gives you a safe place to store all your loot and the house in Whiterun also comes with a Alchemy Station so you will be able to make potions in the comfort of your own home. Just remember that you cannot store items in a container that doesn’t belong to you, so I would consider purchasing a house one of your top priorities.
  • Leveling Up: You will not reach high levels by only leveling up the stealthy skills and archery. A great way to earn extra XP is to develop your crafting skills, which are enchanting, smithing and alchemy. Plus after you make weapons or potions (thus raising the appropriate skills) you can then sell those items, which in turn raises your speech skill.
    • When your character levels up you can place a stat point into either magicka, health or stamina. Don’t waste any points on magicka as this rogue build completely ignores casting spells. Health raises your maximum HP, and this is important seeing how you will take more damage wearing light armor as opposed to heavy armor. Stamina is probably a bit more important. Stamina is used up when you use the Eagle Eye (zoom in) perk, and you will use it a lot as you track your target, waiting for the right moment to loose your arrow. Also, stamina determines how much loot you can carry, and you will be carrying quite a bit since the rogue tends to have sticky fingers.
  • Potions: The biggest downside to the rogue build is vulnerability. Without the heavy armor of a warrior or the healing spells of a mage, the rogue needs to rely on health potions. I recommend buying them whenever you can and carrying at least forty at a time. Don’t feel proud about using them…sometimes you get caught sneaking and you will have to face off against four or more enemies at once.
  • Explore: Skyrim is a massive world and there are seemingly countless things to do and see while exploring it. Don’t let this guide hold you back from experimenting here and there. If you want to go to the Bard’s College rather than the Brotherhood, do it! If you want to be a stealthy mage and ignore archery, go for it! There are so many things to do that I doubt you will see everything there is within one playthrough. Just take your time and enjoy the game.
So that’s my character build for a rogue character in Skyrim. I hope it helps guide you to creating a character that can hold their own in such an expansive world.
If you have any questions, comments or want to submit your own tip (or you think one of mine doesn’t make sense) leave a comment.


  1. PushingWalnut says:

    @Evade Well, seeing that no-one has answered your question it probably isn’t as newb as you might think :) Hope the following helps: Yes there is a difference. The damage output you can see for your self, daggers may have a base of twenty, while axes or hammers will dish out more pain, so i’m not gonna go to deep on that. (that’s what she said.)
    Now for the actuall difference. The damge bonus depends on the perks you choose, if you perk twohanded weapons you’re not gonna get extra damage with daggers or vice-versa, so the actuall output will still be whatever the weapon says pluss any perkbonus. As for the stamina depletion i am actually pretty glad you asked, seeing as hardly anyone seems to care or know but yes, different weapons WILL deplete your stamina at different rates! The heaviest weapons, usualy warhammers will drain you ALOT more than a tiney dagger. Likewise, an ironshield will deplete stamina faster than a leather one. I’m not quite sure about the math but maybe someone else knows?
    And sorry for all the typos, my defence is, i’m an idiot :p

  2. Nancy says:

    Rouge is actually Mage-theif so illusion is just as important as stealth & magica is also important

  3. Spencer says:

    I have also found that joining the thieves guild is one of the best ways to level up your stealth skills.

  4. Joe says:

    I agree with Nancy, illusion magic is important to a rogue and should be here :/

  5. Alinys says:

    Although I didn’t use your setup, I did find your tips helpful. Kudos

  6. Aleen says:

    This is why I will start allover again :)) I have something stupid in mind that actually might work. :))

    Rogue Mage based on illusion spells and daggers =)) + found out a pretty new awsome spell that reanimates some corpses.

  7. Moldren says:

    dark tower fan?

  8. BigBadBob says:

    Good catch Moldren!

  9. Oy says:

    Dark Tower is the greatest series ever.

    Ka is a Wheel.

  10. Jay says:

    I rolled as a wood elf and always use illusion for invisibility and quiet casting it bakes the guild missions much easier. This is a very well done guide keep it up

  11. BigBadBob says:

    Glad I could help ya Jay!

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