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Character Build: The Swordthane

Tags: #Race:Nord  #Character Build Juggernaut  #Character Build Warrior  #Character Build Blacksmith  #Rank:Legendary 
  • Member
    July 29, 2012

    "They have seen my strength for themselves, have watched me rise from the darkness of war, dripping with my enemies' blood..." - Beowulf, trans. Raffel

    The Swordthane

    I've tried sword-and-board several times but for some reason never got into it. That changed with this build, the Swordthane – a pure warrior character build inspired by Beowulf and Anglo-Saxon/Germanic history and legend.

    The Swordthane uses weapons and armor that resemble historical Anglo-Saxon equipment. He fights with a sword, the weapon of the noble warrior class, and is adept with a shield for protection. For hunting and long-range battle he uses a bow, and is woodcrafty enough to occasionally catch game unawares. Not simply a thuggish brute, he takes delight in finely-crafted weapons and armor, and can cleverly work gold and silver into precious treasures. Fearless in word as well as deed, the Swordthane speaks with wisdom and can back up his boasts with prowess. He wanders the land, defeating monsters, evil men, elvish wights, and horrors hidden beneath the earth, and lends his sword to Jarls in need of a hero in these dark days.

    "Beowulf swung his shield into place, held it in front of him.... The dragon coiled and uncoiled, its heart urging it into battle."

    The Swordthane is a perfect match for Skyrim, and to be honest I wouldn't be surprised to learn that lots of people have done something like this already in their own playthroughs. So this build is less about innovative mechanics and more about the excellent roleplay opportunities that the world of Skyrim provides for a character that wholly embraces the Nordic atmosphere.

    Race: Nord

    Stone: Warrior, then Lord. The extra armor from the Lord stone will help keep you more resilient in your mismatched armor sets, and magic resistance is pure gold in a build that doesn't rely on Enchanting, Alchemy, Alteration, or Sneak for one-shot mage kills. I find I like to keep the Warrior stone running until I get my main skills, including Smithing, up around 50, or around character level 20.

    Attribute Allocation: 3 : 1 Health : Stamina. Lots of people claim Stamina is useless since it regenerates and you only need a single point to bash or power attack, but I hate having to wait those few seconds for my little green bar to start filling up again. Having a decent Stamina pool means you can pace yourself through combat and not run out in the first place – at least not so quickly. For me, 'decent' means getting it to at least 200 by around lvl 25.

    Major Skills: Block, One-handed, Smithing

    Minor Skills: Archery, Speech

    Passive (unperked) skills: Light Armor, Heavy Armor, Sneak


    "Beowulf began to fasten on his armor... knowing the woven mail, with its hammered links, could save [his] life... [his] helmet would defend him; that ancient, shining treasure, encircled with hard-rolled metal, set there by some smith's long dead hand, would block all battle swords, stop all blades from cutting at him..."

    Weapons: Skyforged steel sword, Eduj, hunting bow

    Armor: Steel shield (eventually Ysgramor's Shield), scaled armor, scaled or Nordic steel boots, steel helmet (without horns) or wolf helmet, Nordic steel gauntlets. At earlier levels, studded armor and iron everything else is a good look.

       Of course, if you find any of the above equipment pre-enchanted in your travels, hold on to it until you pick up Arcane Blacksmith. Ever since level 25-ish, I've been running with a Steel Helmet of Waterbreathing (which simulates Beowulf's hours-long dive into the lake where he fought Grendel's hag mother), Steel Gauntlets of Wielding, Steel Boots of Fire Resistance, and Scaled Armor of Major Health – all epically smithed.

    Other: Amulet of Talos, ring of magic resistance

    Shouts: Unrelenting Force, Whirlwind Sprint, Elemental Fury, and don't forget your racial power Battlecry

    Quests / Roleplay: With all of the Nordic lore and the ties to Ysgramor, the Nordiest Nord of the Nords, the Companions are clearly the faction of choice. Take your time here, doing jobs and soaking up the mead-hall atmosphere.

    The Main Quest is also ideal for a character out of the pages of Beowulf. Attitude is important here, though. First, I think we can all agree that Delphine sucks, so you should choose every conversation option that puts her in her place. There are also some silly, unthematic things the Main Quest requires you to do, such as 'disguise' yourself at the Thalmor Embassy and join the Thieves' Guild and College of Winterhold.
       Fortunately, you can work around some of these things that are beneath your dignity as a true Nord hero. When it comes to the Embassy, bring all your best gear and go elf-hunting. As for the Thieves' Guild, ignore them and use your powers of persuasion (or observation) to find Esbern directly. And you don't need to visit the College at all. Feel like a swim through some icy water to find Septimus's outpost on your own? Sounds like Beowulf to me!

    The thane quests are great for this build, too. What would a Swordthane be without recognition, after all? Because I like to play slow and get as many jobs done in a town as possible before moving on (to avoid the 'travel fatigue' that sets in around lvl 25 or 30), I prefer to get all thane quests done in each town before doing other quests. The first time I arrive in town, I march up to the Jarl's hall and see what needs doing. (“It's alright, everyone, I'm here – I've got this.”)

    The Stormcloaks would seem like another natural faction, but I sort of hate that questline, since joining either side makes you feel like a jerk. Unfortunately, I think the only way to earn Thane of Windhelm is by finishing the Civil War. If that's important to you, join the Stormcloaks earlier rather than later, unless you don't mind Galmar calling you “boy” after you've saved the world. Personally, I just let this whole questline pass.

    Missing in Action is a great minor quest for you, especially as a true Nordic elf-hater.

    The Bard's College is also a surprisingly decent choice. What Swordthane wouldn't want to be immortalized in epic song?

    "Your strength, your power, are yours for how many years? ... It will come, death comes faster than you can think, no one can flee it."

    The Build

    Level 25 Perk Spread

    Block – Shield Wall (3/5), Deflect Arrows, Elemental Protection, Quick Reflexes, Power Bash, Deadly Bash

    One-handed – Armsman (4/5), Fighting Stance, Savage Strike

    Smithing – Steel Smithing, Elven Smithing, Advanced Armors, Arcane Blacksmith

    Archery – Overdraw (3/5), Eagle Eye

    Speech – Haggling (1/5), Bribery

    This is a low-level build, but it's easy to see where we're going from here. Max out Block. In One-handed, fill out Armsman, but I've avoided Critical Charge – Whirlwind Sprint will let us close the distance when needed, and I'd rather save my Stamina for shield bashing. If you continue to work up Smithing, a couple more perks will get you to Dragon Smithing and unlock those armor and weapons – some of which might be a good match aesthetically for the build. Feel free to go up the left branch of Archery, depending on how long you intend to play; I find Power Shot a good place to stop. And with Speech, work up the right hand side of the tree as it advances.

    Those of you who know and love sword-and-board combat know the routine here – get in the enemy's face, bash, and strike when you've created a good opening. All of the Block perks are good, and though some claim that anything more than 1/5 Shield Wall is a waste, I find that putting at least another point there makes a big difference – especially considering the lack of armor perks in this build.

    Arguably, Quick Reflexes could be skipped, since the shield will be offering considerable defense, but I love Quick Reflexes unabashedly. I suspect the slow-motion effect that it triggers also overrides any kill-cam that might otherwise kick in when an NPC is about to spectacularly cleave you in twain. Regardless, it's a great perk, in total synch with this character's canny fighting style.

    So why carry a sword instead of an axe or mace? More roleplay than mechanics (though the mechanics are solid as well, since swords are fastest of the three). The weapon of nobility in Anglo-Saxon or Germanic culture was the sword – it's the weapon universally used in Beowulf. A good Skyforged steel sword is a weapon any Nord can bear proudly.
       Since it's a good idea to carry a backup weapon in case you get disarmed, you may want to bring Eduj (the sword you find in Volunruud as part of Silenced Tongues). It's of ancient Nordic design, but 'clean' looking, and makes the perfect ancient heirloom once you have Arcane Blacksmith and can hone it up to respectable levels.

    Archery is not as strange a fit as it might at first seem. We have a tendency these days to associate archery with physically weaker characters, but in fact it took considerable brawn to pull back a bowstring in the days before pulleys and mechanical assists. Even Beowulf uses a bow: When his war band comes upon a lake teeming with monsters, “Beowulf aimed an arrow at one of the beasts swimming sluggishly away, and the point pierced its hide, stabbed to its heart; its life leaked out, death swept it off.”
       Given that precedent, I figured this character wouldn't be too proud to carry and use a bow. The hunting bow gives the best look, and also has a great draw speed.
       My rule was to use the bow mostly for hunting or against animals (or people I considered no better than animals). But as a canny warrior, this character wouldn't hesitate to take his time and “make the shot count”, as Angi says. (In other words, sneak attacks are OK to open up a fight now and then.) In this way, you'll level up Sneak – but don't put points into it, or you'll be too tempted to go wholly sneak-and-shoot.

    Go up the right side of the Speech tree to round out this build as a warrior who commands respect. You're not “bribing” guards after you accidentally killed an NPC in the heat of battle; you're paying wergild, or “man-price”. Persuade and Intimidate fit the concept of a boasting hero. It may take a while to develop this skill (another reason to visit the Bard's College – training), but with all the stuff you'll be smithing and selling it should get to a respectable point by lvl 35 or so.

    Obviously, a Swordthane needs the best gear (especially since we're mixing and matching from Light and Heavy armor). But more than just a mindless brute, he is also capable of fine craftsmanship – so don't hesitate to create the best rings and amulets you can (and then sell them to pay for your training, and to recoup losses on ingots you may buy).
       The goal is to get to Advanced Armors so we can craft our scale armor – which in my opinion best matches the mail that is described in Anglo-Saxon history and poetry – and then Arcane Blacksmith to improve the gear that you'll no doubt find on your travels. Some training in Smithing is probably necessary so you don't feel like you're grinding to get to that point, but once you get to Elven (and you start buying Moonstone) you will advance more quickly. Note that you won't actually wear Elven – you're just using it to train the skill.

    Speaking of armor, you'll notice I avoided all armor perks. That's rather unusual in builds I've seen here – the conventional wisdom is to take an armor skill or Alteration for defense – but honestly, I didn't miss them. Your shield-arm will give you all the defense you need if you're quick and clever.
       The other reason is the fact that anything other than the base perks in either armor skill pretty much requires you to wear all of one armor type or another. Since this build mixes armors to go for the best look, that would be a waste.
       Regardless, your armor skills (both Light and Heavy) will be leveling up passively. If you feel the need, a rank or two in the base perks can give you some more staying power. And at your option, 2 perks in Heavy Armor will net you Fists of Steel, which fits the image of the brawling Beowulf.

    Shouts are a natural fit for the build, but for this I prefer the less “flashy” Shouts. No Ice Form, Fire Breath, or Storm Call. Unrelenting Force, however, works nicely as your sole crowd control method, Elemental Fury is known for its awesomeness, and Whirlwind Sprint allows you to charge archers and mages so you can give them a taste of shield to the face that much quicker.

    It's all about the bash...

    And that's the basics – a great build for when you've just read Beowulf or watched one of the pretty horrible movie adaptations, or the far superior The 13th Warrior. It's a simple, straightforward play style that allows you to embrace blocking without becoming a tank, to use some great-looking armor without worrying about the silly perk trees, and to stride around the lands of Skyrim like a true northern hero, using your strong shield arm, your serpent-quick sword skill, and your cunning strategy and measured speechcraft to leave a noble mark on the troubled land where Nords first touched their prows to the shores of Tamriel.


  • July 29, 2012

    Really interesting and well thought out. +1

  • Member
    July 29, 2012

    I really enjoyed reading this. It actually reminded me of The 13th Warrior, so I was pleased to find in the end you were thinking of it too. I also like that you rely on the shield for defense, so there is no redundancy and the skill choice is very focused, making for a nice clean build.

  • July 29, 2012
    I would hit the "like"- button more then one time if i could! Awesome! :-D
  • Member
    July 29, 2012


    Not sure if you already knew this, but the 13th Warrior is indirectly based on/inspired by Beowulf.  Well, it's actually based on a book by Michael Crichton called The Eaters of the Dead, and that book is based on Beowulf.  All of which are highly recommended!

    I prefer focused characters whose perks/skills have an RP element, so I was surprised to see there wasn't a build really like this already. 

  • July 29, 2012
    Great read and really loving the look. +1
  • Member
    July 29, 2012

    Love the heavy emphasis on Roleplaying. Im also one of those guys that tries to combine different armor to get the best "look". Hell, my first sword and shield character was made to specifically replicate the actor from the Dovakhin live action trailer. Not the best defense, but definitely looked the part! +1 from me!

  • Member
    July 29, 2012

    Hehe, yeah - my wife gave me a funny look a few days ago when I told her that I had just found a circlet that looked perfect for this character.  (It was a circlet of major archery or something that you can see in the last pic.) 

    Of course she does the same thing with her characters.  It's all about the look.

  • Member
    July 29, 2012

    Perfect. You're a history nut, you're a lore nut, you've got an insane amount of knowledge, you care about role play over power play, and you love the Nordic culture of's like staring at a better version of me in the mirror. Liked, and I'm keeping my eye out for any future builds from you!

  • Member
    July 29, 2012

    Really cool build! I've always loved Beowulf (though I read Rebsamen's splendid verse translation) and yet it never occurred to me to use the concept in Skyrim. Big +1!