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Character Build: The Arrowsworn

  • Member
    September 24, 2014

    Welcome to the Arrowsworn, a character build and playstyle that looks at some core gameplay assumptions of Skyrim, shrugs, and keeps on walking.

    It does not depend on the bow, but on the presence of mind, on the vitality and awareness with which you shoot. -from Zen in the Art of Archery, p. 62

    In Hammerfell, where worship of Arkay is strongest, the dead are almost always subject to Arkay's Law. - Corpse Preparation, v1

    The Arrowsworn is an archer-monk who abides by three sacred vows: the Love of Charity, the Love of Poverty, and the Love of Life.

    The Love of Charity means to always help those in need.

    The Love of Poverty means to only take that which is freely given.

    The Love of Life means to uphold the natural law, and detest those who break it – especially the undead.

    In gameplay terms, these vows mean that the Arrowsworn will offer his aid to any who need it. He will choose quests and enter dungeons where the undead are likely to be found. But most importantly, his vow of Poverty means that he will not loot.

    Let that simmer while we move on to the build itself.

    The Build

    Race: Redguard. I picture the Arrowsworn to be a member of a secluded sect of Arkay who meditate and train in the dry mountains of Hammerfell to be ever vigilant against the undead and ever helpful to their fellow men and mer. Redguards also benefit from some skill boosts in Archery, Alteration and Smithing, Poison Resistance (which nicely simulates a monkish purity of body), and Adrenaline Rush.

    Stone: The Lord. In early levels, either Mage or Thief (which governs Archery). The Lord is a free and easy way to augment the Arrowsworn's low defenses, both physical and magical.

    Attributes: The Arrowsworn strives for balance in body and spirit. 1:1:1 Magicka:Health:Stamina will be the ratio until Health reaches roughly 200, at which point a focus on Magicka may be preferable.

    Skills: Archery, Restoration, Alteration, Smithing

    Optional Skill: Sneak

    Archery is the obvious offensive skill for the Arrowsworn. Focus on its advancement early, and take perks here as soon as possible. Since the Arrowsworn will be using fairly low-level bow and arrows, he depends upon his skill to keep them deadly. All perks in the Archery tree are taken, with the exception of Ranger and the second perk in Steady Hand. Ranger is more appropriate for a skirmishing playstyle, whereas the goal with the Arrowsworn is to choose his ground carefully, sight down his enemies, and finish them off with as little movement as possible. Sprint-kiting will take care of those who get too close.

    Restoration is the spirit of Arkay moving in the breath and hands of the Arrowsworn. It heals his wounds, banishes the undead, and may fortify him against fatigue (if the Respite perk is taken).

    Alteration strengthens the Arrowsworn for combat. It is the pre-battle ceremony of fortification that inures him against the bite of blades and the sting of arrows. It also strengthens his will, enabling him to shrug off the dark wizardries of enemy necromancers. Offensive spells, though, are to be avoided, so paralysis effects will only come from Archery's Bullseye perk.

    Smithing allows the Arrowsworn to improve his bows, but it is primarily used to fletch his own arrows, as he prefers to use what he makes himself.

    Some among the Arrowsworn may choose to learn the arts of stealth, not primarily to increase sneak attack damage, but rather to establish the best method of attack before battle begins, and – with the Silent Roll perk – to dodge in and out of melee combat, allowing for some quick repositioning. [Note: I had high hopes for combining Silent Roll with Shadow Warrior to execute a melee 'disappearing trick', but wasn't able to pull it off. Sneak may work for players who prefer a stealthy monk approach or those who have the twitchy reflexes needed to make use of Silent Roll in combat, but it's certainly not necessary for the build, and I know many players prefer to avoid it altogether – hence its 'optional' status here.]

    Level 28 Perk Spread

    Archery: Overdraw (5/5), Critical Shot (3/3), Hunter's Discipline, Eagle Eye, Steady Hand (1/2), Power Shot, Quick Shot, Bullseye

    Restoration: Novice-Adept, Regeneration

    Alteration: Novice-Adept, Magic Resistance (3/3), Stability

    Smithing: Steel Smithing, Dwarven Smithing

    What Poverty Means

    So, how does “no looting” work for the Arrowsworn? It's pretty simple: Don't pick up anything from slain enemies apart from the arrows you shot. (This makes Hunter's Discipline an invaluable perk.) Don't pick up anything from chests or containers unless it is required for you to progress in your quest (dragon claws, keys, etc.), and drop them when they're no longer needed. Books are another exception here – you can of course pick up a skill book or spell tome to read, but return the former when finished.

    This means that, upon leaving Helgen, you will be in possession of the clothes on your back, and the longbow and dozen arrows that Hadvar gives you. That's pretty much it.

    For the vast majority of the time, you're only using gear you made, bought, or were gifted by some grateful NPC.

    My decision to not loot opened up some fascinating roleplay and gameplay opportunities. How often have you heard, or thought yourself, that gold is all too easily available in Skyrim, with too little to spend it on? With the Arrowsworn, I spent most of the game with less than 200 gold in my belt pouch, and felt positively rich when I had over 1,000 septims to my name. Often, I couldn't afford carriage rides or spending the night at an inn. All of the money you earn, either from quest rewards such as bandit bounties or other jobs, or from selling item rewards such as the Axe of Whiterun, will go towards buying spells, buying arrows, or buying ore/ingots to smith your own arrows.

    One of the things this made me appreciate, surprisingly, was Skyrim's “disposition” system.

    I always thought it was silly how, if you do a chore for some NPCs, they will let you take things from their house. I never really took advantage of that feature with any of my other characters, since characters who pick up gold from chests and take gear from dead foes will end up with far better equipment than what they're likely to find in, say, Ysolda's house.

    But with the Arrowsworn, my perspective on that mechanic changed.

    After escaping Helgen with Hadvar, we went to Riverwood for the customary chat with Alvor the blacksmith. I ended up with some Restore Health potions and the use of a place to sleep for the night. Doing the Riverwood Trader questline for the Golden Claw gave me a head start on saving up for some higher level spells. And doing the quest to retrieve Amren's sword earned me a free bed for the night, as well as a few handfuls of coins from my grateful host (check containers to see what is lootable vs. what is considered stealing).

    There are plenty of such opportunities in the game, and it creates an amazing sense of belonging in the world. Instead of trudging off to the Bannered Mare yet again for a Well-Rested xp bonus, I'm calling upon an old friend for a place to stay for the night. Sometimes they'll spontaneously gift you with items that you can sell or that can be useful in their own right.

    There are too many great interactions like that to list, but a notable one occurs during the Wolf Queen questline in Solitude. My Arrowsworn makes it his priority to visit the Houses of the Dead and Halls of Arkay in Skyrim's cities, so he was already familiar with Styrr by the time the priest tasked him with putting an end to Potema's rise. At this point in my character, around level 17, I had yet to find a Turn Undead spell – but that is exactly what Styrr gave me as he sent me on my way. An Adept level spell for free – for any other character, that would have been pretty “meh”, but for the Arrowsworn, such generosity is profound and meaningful.


    Obviously, gear is not the focus of the Arrowsworn; in fact, he'll be relying on his simple Longbow from Helgen for much of the game. But there are a couple of gifted bows that work for the character, and allow him to maintain his oath of Poverty.

    Angi's Bow – given by Angi, at Angi's Cabin, along with some free Archery training. A very decent Hunting Bow, it will benefit from Steel Smithing. Still, I like to leave this until late in the playthrough, to make better use of those free skill-ups.

    Zephyr – probably the best weapon for the Arrowsworn, this is technically “looted” from a log in Arkngthamz, but Katria makes it clear she wants you to have the weapon.

    Auriel's Bow is great as an undead-buster, but as an enchanted weapon it is powered by the souls of the dead, making it off-limits to the Arrowsworn. An alternative option would be to use it until its charge expires, or perhaps use it in conjunction with the Soul Siphon Enchanting perk... but this feels somewhat against the spirit of the character.

    As for melee weapons, a sturdy woodcutter's axe will allow the Arrowsworn to cut firewood for a few septims and create his own arrows – as well as performing other humble duties such as chopping through spider webs.

    Iron arrows can be created with no perks by using firewood and iron ingots. The Arrowsworn will rely on iron arrows as his basic arrow for much of the game. Eventually, after Steel Smithing is taken, steel arrows can be crafted – but they are much more expensive, requiring corundum. (I chose not to carry a pickaxe, and confined myself to buying the raw materials, since otherwise arrows would be far too plentiful and money would be less important – and mining could be thought of as another form of 'looting'.) Steel and higher level arrows are best reserved for dungeons or powerful enemies.

    By crafting arrows alone, it is possible to advance fairly easily up to Dwarven Smithing, where I chose to stop. These arrows are stronger than their Orcish counterparts. Still, finding the material to make them is a challenge, since the Arrowsworn isn't cleaning out scrap metal from Dwarven ruins. Instead, he'll have to buy the ingots or the scrap directly from merchants.

    No mining of ore, no looting of enemy arrows – this means the Arrowsworn absolutely depends upon towns and cities for his equipment, giving him more chances to interact with others, give help where possible, and take advantage of generosity when it is given.


    The Arrowsworn has a range of shouts at his disposal. No directly damaging shouts are used, however. Instead, he has a variety of shouts that emulate “monkish” powers. The Arrowsworn is on very good terms with the Greybeards, and views them as his teachers during his time in Skyrim. The dragon threat, after all, is very much a case of the dead returning to life – something his masters in Hammerfell taught him that Arkay despises. Given that, he embraces his Dragonborn status with respect and a proper detachment.

    Whirlwind Sprint is an excellent opening shout for an archer-monk. While trekking through open wilderness, this is the shout I most often had prepared. Even one word of this will give enough distance to allow another shot or two, making this a better option than Become Ethereal for those ambush moments.

    However, in close quarters or times of crisis, Become Ethereal can allow you to sprint away and heal, making it undoubtedly a worthy option.

    Aura Whisper reveals the presence of enemies alive or (un)dead – a perfect counterpoint to the Detect Life spell the Arrowsworn is likely to acquire during his travels, and a fitting power for a mystic.

    Slow Time is, of course, the pinnacle of meditative archery, and when fueled by the Stability perk in the Alteration tree allows the Arrowsworn to maintain his focused state for even longer. With all three words, he is capable of sending a barrage of arrows into his foes, killing dragons before they can even land.

    Disarm, Dismaying Shout, and Kyne's Peace are all thematically fitting shouts, though I found little need for them in my playthrough.

    Finally, meditating on Fus with Paarthurnax will increase the duration of staggers from Power Shot, making this the best option for the Arrowsage despite the fact that he does not use Unrelenting Force.


    The Main Quest is essential for unlocking some helpful shouts and allowing access to Paarthurnax, a great teacher for a monkish character. It also allows the Arrowsworn to fulfill his vows against the undead, whether they be dragons returning to life or the many draugr and dragon priests who serve them.

    The College of Winterhold opens up a Slow Time word, and grants access to some reliable spell merchants. The Psijic connection also plays well with a monk character.

    The Civil War questline is only necessary to acquire one word of Slow Time. Consider this as a brief diversion, nothing more – best done early in the Arrowsworn's career.

    The Wolf Queen Awakens is a great little questline that nets a free Turn Undead spell and gets the character doing what he lives to do – put down draugr.

    The Book of Love quest for the Mara temple in Riften is fitting for a good-natured character who is sworn to the service of the Aedra, and the 15% magic resistance, when combined with the Lord stone and all 3 resistance perks in the Alteration tree, gets the Arrowsworn up to 70% total magic resistance, allowing him to shrug off enemy spells.

    Also in Riften, the Hall of the Dead offers a simple and excellent quest for this character.

    A Night to Remember is a fun quest – a nice break from the 'grim wandering mystic' schtick. I never used the reward itself, but I played my Arrowsworn as a friendly sort who wasn't afraid to have a drink or two with a good-natured fellow like Sam, and the entire questline is a great lesson in humility.

    The Arrowsworn's limitations in gear and gameplay options open up some surprising aspects of Skyrim. It's a gratifying playstyle, one which makes you see the world in a different way and appreciate aspects you may never have considered. Despite an apparent lack of flashy tricks, the Arrowsworn is a driven and more than capable adventurer of the harsh northern lands.

  • Member
    September 24, 2014

    What an extremely characterful build! I really enjoyed it, everything meshed with the story of the character. Great job on this, Paul! Quick question: Will the escape from Helgen progress if you refuse to loot the gear, or do you have to take it and put it right back?

  • Member
    September 24, 2014

    I really like the "only use what is freely given" and reliance on the disposition mechanic. I'm playing through a warrior-poet build right now and know that concept of earning the trust and respect of citizens is a huge roleplay boon which I think you've showcased wonderfully here.

    It's also nice to see another Redguard build and I think that race suits the idea you portray beautifully. In their lore one can easily see a little eastern philosophy and I think the image of a meditating monk sitting alone on the arid hills of the Alikr is just so cool. I think I would have enjoyed it more if you'd delved into the lore a little deeper, used Tu'whacca instead of Arkay and really infused this build with Yokudan spirit as you so poetically achieve with your Nordic builds.

    Nevertheless, what you have done is make poverty, charity and respect for nature sound epic

  • Member
    September 24, 2014

    Which gear?  The stuff in the chest, or the stuff on the dead mage in the cell, or something else?  You can avoid picking up all of those things - well, you may have to pick up the key in the chest when you go with Hadvar. 

    But yeah, you don't have to do much fiddling to progress the quest and still avoid looting. Thanks for the kind words!

  • Member
    September 24, 2014

    Thanks, Phil.  I guess I'm just a Nord at heart! :P I'm not at all well-versed in the actual Yokudan lore - just enough to get the sense that a (caricature of a) Japanese/Eastern aesthetic and philosophy could work for them. 

    What sort of character is your warrior-poet?  Sounds intriguing, please divulge!

  • Member
    September 24, 2014

    That's fair enough, your Nord builds are so loaded with spirit they more than compensate!

    Feeney and Henson are the experts on Redguard lore if you feel inclined to dig and need some pointers. I read this build head-cannoning it into a bow-using sect of the Ash'abah, with an emphasis on the spiritual traditions of the Ansei who founded them.

    I am grateful for your enthusiasm towards my current project Paul but it would be unfair to derail this page with its details. You've certainly given me some inspiration in how to portray the virtues he stands for.

  • September 24, 2014

    Really cool build.  I'm going to start playing it tonight.  

  • Member
    September 24, 2014
    No looting... you're hardcore, Paul! I play Adept, and so I always place limitations on my playthroughs, but I would never in a million years have come up with that! At some point in time I will play this, or at least borrow HEAVILY from it. But as someone who purposely places restrictions on my characters, I have to ask... what was your greatest temptation to loot when you played this; what was almost too good to pass up? BTW, I'm not counting Zephyr, because your reasoning seemed sound to me :D
  • Member
    September 24, 2014

    Well, I wouldn't say no to a PM - or whatever this site does to allow communication that isn't focused on a particular build.  Exchanging ideas about characters and roleplay opportunities is a big part of the fun for me.  If nothing else, I'll settle for a posted build of your warrior-poet.

    Thanks for the links!  There's so much lore involved in TES, I don't see how people can keep track of it all.  For me, the Nord stuff has such obvious analogues in real-world Norse/Old English that it's familiar to play around with in the context of TES (though there are some crazy elements too that diverge quite a bit from that Northern European standard).  Redguards/Yokuda.... that's a whole other country!

  • Member
    September 24, 2014

    Me gusta.