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Character Build: Vancian Thief

Tags: #Character Build Thief  #Character Build Rogue  #Character Build Unarmored  #Rank:Mythic  #Hall of Fame Build 
  • Member
    March 21, 2013


    The Vancian Thief

    (R.I.P. Jack Vance)

         "Cugel was a man of many capabilities, with a disposition at once both flexible and pertinacious. He was long of leg, deft of hand, light of finger, soft of tongue. His hair was the blackest of black fur, growing low down  his forehead, coving sharply back above his eyebrows. His darting eye, long inquisitive nose and droll mouth gave his somewhat lean and bony face an expression of vivacity, candor, and affability. He had known many vicissitudes, gaining therefrom a suppleness, a fine discretion, a mastery of both bravado and stealth..." (from The Eyes of the Overworld, by Jack Vance)

    This character is just glass, no cannon. And yet he is not without skill in surviving and escaping (preferably just sneaking past threats in the first place). This build was originally played on NOVICE setting, but canny players could play on adept with maybe 150 health or so, with a bigger focus on cowardice and avoiding fair (or worse) combat. 


    Race: Breton. (Any race would do, but I favor Bretons due to certain facial traits in creation)

    Name: Cugel the Clever. ("Am I known as Cugel the Clever for nothing?") 

    Stone: Thief on the outset, then Lord. Or Lover. 

    Stat Distribution: 0/150/999 


    Primary: Sneak, Lockpick, Block

     Cugel is a sneak-thief. He must know how to evade opposition, and enter and exit the various locked manses and palaces, tombs and dungeons unseen if he wishes to survive long enough to profit. If he has to draw his sword, odds are his plans have gone horribly wrong. But he has some skill with the blade, and if need be, he can defend himself long enough from the barbaric advances of those crude Skyrimian's to affect his unceremonious escape.

    Don't fill out the sneak perk tree, limit yourself to 1-3 in Sneak for immersion, and Backstab. For lockpick, I only went up the right hand side. For block, apply perks liberally, as we will be using a single sword and nothing in the off-hand most of the time. I often picked up a shield when I killed an enemy equipped with one and I was committed to killing more enemies nearby. Its conditional though, I always dropped the shield when combat ended and it was time to move on. 

    Secondary: One Handed, Speech, Pickpocket

    Cugel isn't a very talented swashbuckler, but his desperation and exploitative tactics allow him a good chance for survival (read: utilizing environmental advantages, traps, and using sneak attacks to even the odds, or block-bashing to provide time to turn tail and escape). Vancian thieves are also eloquent and verbose and can haggle with the best of merchants, or use crafty persuasion to cajole, bribe, or threaten. It can be a slow road with Speech, but make sure the guardsmen have heard about "Your Honeyed Words". Pickpocketing is the most minor of skills, but it is helpful to boost it up a bit for those moments you find an employee who works at a nearby money vault and has the only key...  

    (The below was for my original playthrough on novice setting; adapt accordingly to Adept or higher- and expect to level combat skills slower.)

    *PERK SPREAD* (IF a perk lacks any signifying #/5, it is implied to be a perk of 1/1 available rank only)

    SNEAK: Stealth 3/5, Backstab (1/1)

    LOCKPICK: Novice, Apprentice, Adept. Expert Locks

    BLOCK: Shield Wall 5/5,  Deflect Arrows, Elemental Protection, Block Runner, Quick Reflexes, Power Bash. Deadly Bash, Disarming Bash

    ONE HANDED: Armsman 5/5, Fighting Stance, Bladesman 3/3, Critical Charge

    SPEECH: Haggling 5/5, Allure, Merchant, Investor, Bribery, Persuasion, Intimidation

    PICKPOCKET: Light Fingers 1/5, Night Thief

    GEAR :

    Armor chafes your delicate skin and interferes deplorably with your walking. You don't wear any, preferring fine clothes indicating a high station and ease of moment.

    Raiment should consist of expensive clothing until Cicero's outfit becomes available. Wear fine clothes and fine hats. Make sure to change and bathe often!

    Sword: I got a one handed Silver Sword from the Silverhand in an adventure that taught my Vancian thief he didn't like dungeon delving all that much. It is my rapier. It is more a status symbol than a weapon to defend your life with. A scimitar is exotic enough to be a replacement. Eventually you will trade what your sword is for Windshear.




    Don't take any random job unless your character is feeling cocky, or sees it as easy, easy money. A Vancian thief takes carriages everywhere and walks from there if he has to leave the safety of walled towns. Thieves guild and Dark Brotherhood are perfect. Thieves Guild offers employment of Cugel's most honed skills, namely burglary and other nefarious enterprise. The Dark Brotherhood allows Cugel and the player opportunity for singular combat- which is just about the only type Cugel should consider engaging in.

    Play as a coward. Your stat distribution is important as (originally) everything (went) goes into stamina. This is because you will need to be able to sprint away from conflict. Your Vancian thief will have a longer stride than anyone, and if he is discovered or ambushed, his first and only instinct is to flee, far and fast

    Note on magic: The term Vancian may remind some of you of Vancian Magic from early D&D. If not, it doesn't matter. (Hopefully it reminds you of Jack Vance.) Cugel the Clever will boast of being a powerful and mighty magician, however, he is only capable of using SCROLLS, and MAGIC TOOLS SUCH AS STAFFS AND AMULETS. He will never comprehend a full spell book, or grasp the subtlety inherent in enchanting, so he purloins scrolls and staffs as backup for those moments he needs to be flashy.


    ROLEPLAY : Get rich, and run away when things go south.


    Here are examples of my RPing with this role.

    Every night I get to an inn and eat a full, luxurious meal and drink the finest wine available. I sleep nine to eleven hours, depending on how strenuous and taxing the days work was. I also have an hour long breakfast in the morning before facing the day. I will steal to pay for it, right from the coinpurse of the inn keeper or a patron if need be. Sometimes Cugel may find himself trapped in some dank ruin or far from the luxuries he is accustomed to. Make due with what food and bedding you can, and take vengeance upon those who ruined your night later if possible.

    I almost always have a hired henchmen with me until I have a high amount of stamina and I can outsprint those hired thugs or brotherhood hitmen the world sends at you. If you leave the towns or roads, be confident you are equipped with scrolls. Travel along rivers if possible so you can dive in and swim away when attacked by bears or cougars. When you have successfully fled, brush yourself off like a dignified feline and shake your fist in the general direction you fled from.

    I didn't carry anything more than my flamboyant clothes on my back, one sword, my precious stolen scrolls, maybe occasionally a staff (I pretended the Sanguine Rose shrank down to a normal rose I wore in the chest-pocket of my Jester outfit), and jewels and money. If you are attacked while carrying extra loot, like a set of armor, twelve swords, etc, (or something/things impractical to running away,) DROP IT BEFORE FLEEING.

    If your in combat, always turn the odds immediately, or flee when that doesn't work. Scrolls and magical items can help in either situation.

    Once I did the chain quest to rebuild Mehrunes Dagger. I rode Shadowmare alone up the mountain and met the diety Mehrune, who promptly demanded a murder, then gave me the restored dagger, and sicced two daedric warriors on me. Well, Cugel the Clever didn't have to even think about his course of action. He hopped on his horse and fled willy-nilly down the mountain side while Mehrunes laughed from above and the roars of the daedric warriors dwindled behind. Shadowmere took a hard landing from too high a jutting rock, instantly killing the shadow steed, and Cugel jolted from the saddle, in what looked like a death animation, and he tumbled lifelessly down to the mountains base. It was here that Cugel stood up, his vision distorted, his health bar at its very bottom, one more tumble away from death. But Cugel survived. He got up, shook his fist at the demons on the mountain (who appeared as angry red dots on his radar/map still) and fled all the way back to civilization. 



    Thanks for the Hall of Fame inducting my friends. It means a lot to see Cugel there.



  • Member
    March 21, 2013

    Good build, +1 

  • Member
    March 21, 2013

    Oh I hope everyone likes it! I really really do!!!

  • Member
    March 21, 2013
    You said not to get dragons envolved yet you say he killed many? Other than that I like it!
  • Member
    March 21, 2013

    That was after completing the Dark Brotherhood and Thieves guild, and Mages Guild. I completed the College quest limited to my definition of a Vancian thief's magical comprehension and mainly snuck and stabbed my way through to the end. Everything is easier with Windshear.. I was cocky and powerful enough at that time, and didn't want to retire my character.

    To advance the civil war questline, I had to get the Dragonstone to the Jarl of Whiterun, so he would give me back Ulfrics axe, so I could very hesitatingly hide behind the stormcloaks as we stormed strongholds and defeated the empire. 

    Dragons don't come back until they find out the lowly thief is getting too big for his boots.

  • Member
    March 21, 2013

    ive heard of jack vance though yet to read any, i kno my bro has novels maybe ill try. good RP build tho, i got a similar build,in thatof a character i want to bring into this, and this gives me ideas on how to introduce him to readers

  • Member
    March 21, 2013

    Thank you! I have wanted to share this build forever. I can't find anyone having based an elderscrolls character off of Jack Vances fiction, and it just fits so well for me! 

    I have been wondering if there were any Cugel's in Skyrim aside from mine. Hopefully this build will inspire others to let there be!

  • Member
    March 21, 2013

    Yeah I felt it was a bit text heavy. I have been proof reading it but I wont have the chance the change it till later tonight after my daily debaucheries. 

    Hang in there! 

  • August 4, 2013
    Eh novice ... I play this kinds of roleplay builds on master so you really are scared of everything
  • Member
    August 8, 2013

    M'aiq is brave Khajiit