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Character Build: The Arbalist (Crossbowman)

Tags: #Character Build Archer  #Character Build Juggernaut  #Character Build Knight  #Rank:Legendary  #Henson 
  • Member
    July 9, 2012

    Grixis mentioned I should put a spoiler notice for Dawnguard. ***SPOILERS***

    To preface, this is my first build so if anything I can improve upon please do not hesitate to let me know. I am a bit of a history buff and try to make characters as closely as I can to specific time periods. This particular character is built from Medieval advancements in crossbow technology. Early crossbows were simple in design, and the ones introduced in Dawnguard have a mechanical crank and more sophisticated reload system similar to an arbalest (name of the weapon, not person who shoots crossbows) introduced in the 12th century. Anyway, going beyond the boring history stuff, I will describe my character build.

    The Arbalist

    The Arbalist is a very straightforward character build. It focuses on 4 out of the 6 "Warrior" skills with a few perks into restoration for healing. The character build can be summed up in one sentence: A heavy-armored, crossbow wielding foot soldier that does not need to sneak. Finding this site a few days ago and joining recently, I came across the build The Demonhunter build which is similar, but this character is without all the fancy magic stuff!

    The unique aspect that I implemented into the build was the use of a shield. Arbalist's were famous for using what was called a pavise, a large shield to defend from oncoming arrow or crossbow attacks from opposing forces. The shield was rather long and the bottom of it came to a point which made it easy for the crossbowman to shove it into the ground to stand up, leaving both hands to reload his crossbow. Unfortunately, no shields are shaped like this and we are unable to "ground" shields for a barricade, so any shield makes do for what this build needs it for.

    The Arbalist favors open spaces and being outdoors. Much of Skyrim is adventuring underground and indoors, so battling with a crossbow can be tough with multiple enemies charging you. Quickly switching to a shield to deliver a few quick bashes or shield charge can level the playing field allowing the crossbowman to gain the distance advantage yet again. It also allows for the free hand to heal if needed.

    Racial Choices

    For this character, I went for a straight ahead foot soldier warrior by choosing Imperial. The Imperials had the most skills boosted at the beginning, save for archery, with bonuses in block, heavy armor, and restoration. Voice of the Emperor can also help in emergencies where you are overwhelmed by too many enemies and do not yet have shield charge.

    You could truly pick any other race for good reasons. Bosmer for archery boost, Breton for resists, Orc for more damage, and so on. Again, I am a history buff, so Imperial kind of fit with what I wanted for roleplaying aspects of the character.


    Skills Used

    To present some of the specifics of the build, I try to think of two "modes" this character has: Offensive and Defensive/Recovery. 



    Archery - You all saw this one coming right? Skill that governs damage and other important aspects of wielding a crossbow. I maxed out this tree except for Steady Hand and Critical shot only got one.

    Notable perks

    • Power Shot - Combined with a crossbow's natural stagger, this is very useful.
    • Quick Shot - For faster crossbow reloads.
    • Ranger - Historically, arbalist's bunker down behind a pavise, but being mobile is a better choice for this character. Ranger makes you move a lot faster while aiming to fire.

    Smithing - I could just as well add this to Defensive skills, but this improves the build's survivability and therefore augments damage output.

    Notable perks

    • Dwarven Smithing - Important for enhancing your Dwarven Crossbows.
    • Steel + Advanced Smithing - Improves Dawnguard and steel/steel plate armors as well as steel crossbows.


    Heavy Armor - The first tier of protection for the build. Being mobile is important, and I utilize the Steed standing stone to help with movement until I grab the conditioning perk sometime soon.

    Notable perks

    • Juggernaut - Improved defenses are important
    • Conditioning - To help with mobility wearing heavy, burdening armor

    Block - The Arbalist's "pavise". The whole tree is helpful in defending against targets that rush your position. Bash perks to quickly get away from enemies, deflect arrows, and the almighty shield charge to lay waste to groups of bad guys and then pick them off.

    Notable perks

    • Power/Deadly/Disarming Bash - Anything to get out of a tight corner.
    • Deflect Arrows - The "true" use of a pavise. Useful against multiple archers.
    • Shield Charge - The eventual go to shield skill to lay enemies on their backs while you unload bolts.

    Restoration - Important for any combat oriented character. Quick healing spells are invaluable for the eventual damage you are going to take.

    Notable perks

    • Regeneration - Healing more each cast saves time, allowing for less recovery time, more shooting.
    • Adept Restoration - Shooting for the spell Close Wounds. With Regeneration, a quick 150 health is restored, making you battle ready much quick than the beginning healing spell. for a complete look

    Equipment Advice

    Head - Steel Helmet (no horns). Most aesthetically close to a time period correct Medieval helmet. Dawnguard heavy helmet also works great!

    Chest - Dawnguard Heavy armor. The plated aspects for looks combined with good defense make it perfect.

    Hands - Dawnguard Heavy gauntlets.

    Feet - Steel Plated Boots. They just look cool. And I would imagine heavy boots makes for "digging in" for a crossbow battle a bit easier.

    Rings/Amulet - I aim for anything that increases health or stamina.

    Bolts - There is a lot of fun to be had with the exploding bolts that are offered in Dawnguard. I only use exploding fire bolts to keep true to the role-play, as later on in history archers and arbalists used powder charges on lit arrows and bolts. 



    With the skills and perks I use and plan to use, the gameplay is very fast paced. Crossbows are great for staggering enemies, so them getting close is rare when one on one. Multiple enemies are a threat and using a few quick shield bashes and shield charges solve this. I loved shields so much, I just had to incorporate using one into a build.

    Having the archery perks directly transfer to crossbows is the main idea for the build. Quicker reloads, better stagger chance, and more damage make crossbows deadly in any situation.

    In retrospect, I could have gone with a few perks into sneak for a first strike against groups. I also might eventually invest in enchanting for the sole purpose of added fire damage. Lit arrows and bolts were deadly throughout history and lighting enemies on fire from afar would be really great. No snakes aLive also mentioned adding alchemy to the build, which I might play around with. Weakness to fire potions combined with fire damage bolts or exploding fire bolts would prove extremely effective! Thank you for that tip!


    Well that is all I have for this character build. This site has been great to read and some awesome artwork! I tried to add some cool pictures. I hope anyone reading this tries this build and has fun.

  • July 9, 2012
    I'd reccomend the Imperial shield, pretty pointy end and large. Some RP stuff would be great too.
  • July 9, 2012
    Exactly what I was hoping it would be, except even better with that whole shield twist! Brilliant idea there, especially once Block hits 100 and you can Shield Charge enemies off your ass. Anyone who liked my Demonhunter should consider this build too; trading spells for a shield is not a bad idea when Block probably has the best perk tree in the game. I think Fus Ro Dah is a perfect gtfo me shout for this build too. Or Whirlwind Sprint after you bash/charge people, just like it works for mine. Thanks for the shout-out with my Alchemy tip, btw! Just a little something for folks to consider but this build is definitely great on its own.
  • Member
    July 9, 2012

    Looks good, I was planning on something like this but with Sneak, using Alchemy instead of Restoration (I usually prefer to only have one or the other) and one-handed instead of Block (to dual-wield mace and dagger, something I've been wanting to try). Otherwise looks good, I like the attention to the medieval history!

  • July 9, 2012

    Wish I had DG just for crossbows! Good build mate! +1

  • Member
    July 10, 2012

    Can't effing wait until I get my hands on a crossbow in Dawnguard.  The build looks great! 

    Maybe a Dwarven shield would work aesthetically?  It's not quite 'period', but has the sort of pointy bottom, I think, that you could imagine digging into the ground. 

    I agree that alchemy is probably a great idea for this.  Seems better thematically than Restoration, for some reason... I just have a hard time imagining crossbow-wielders as anything other than mechanical/nonmagical dudes.  But then again, if you're going Dawnguard...

    Anyway, great job again.  This may be my Dawnguard character! 

    Just selfishly, I'm wondering if there are any good vids out there of crossbow gameplay?  I'm trying to stay away from giant spoilers; I'd just like to see the crossbow in action. 

  • July 10, 2012
    I'll post a vid for you soon, probably this afternoon I'll be able to get it up.
  • Member
    July 10, 2012
    In all myntime playing, I have yet to come across an Imperial Shield! Thanks for that tip!
  • Member
    July 10, 2012
    Thanks so much! As for the alchemy part, I have been starting to add it into the build thanks to No snakes' suggestion and it really does make sense. The restoration works wonders, but quick healing with potions and adding poisons to bolts is fantastic and I feel dumb I didn't do that in the first place. It would be cool ignoring all schools of magic!
  • Member
    July 10, 2012
    Thank you! I did not even think about shouts. Sometimes I get caught up with just normal gameplay, I forget I can shout. Your alchemy tip has been great! As I mentioned to Paul England below, it is sort of a cool idea to completely separate this character from all schools of magic!