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Contest Build: The Desert Mage

Tags: #Character Build Juggernaut  #Character Build Elementalist  #Character Build Alchemist  #Race:Redguard  #Rank:Recognized  #Contest4 
  • Member
    February 1, 2016

     The desert can be a dangerous place.

    When the sun is at its brightest, the unending heat can drive a man insane.

    And when the sun is nowhere to be found, the sands provide little shelter from the paralysing wind which sweeps across the dunes.

    Legend tells of individuals able to harness this power in the form of elemental magic; their flames strike terror into the hearts of their enemies, and none can stand under a never-ending barrage of wind and ice.

    The theme of this character building contest is “mini builds”, meaning the character must be fully playable by level 30. Of course, this does limit the use of perks and equipment; it would not be possible to run 9 skills and take high-tier perks in all of them. Similarly, the character cannot use double enchanted legendary gear without compromising a lot on combat skills. I have identified things that can be incorporated into the build in order to make it as powerful and complete as possible for a low levelled character.

    No more than one crafting skill - Although I do not usually use this, it is apparent that the perks placed into crafting may be better used to increase base damage or defences.

    Unique enchanted apparel - Certain items in Skyrim carry very strong enchantments, which are almost always more powerful that what an unskilled enchanter could place on their own gear, and the best part is that no crafting perks are required to obtain them.

    Dragon shouts and powers - These magical effects do not use up magicka like conventional spells, instead they run on a timer, meaning that they are just as effective at level 30 as they are at level 60. I chose very powerful shouts with long cooldowns, and used them at the start of a battle, so that I could ignore the cooldown and just use my spells and shield as I would without shouts.

    So let's get into the build...

    Race - Redguard. To start off with, you will have a boost of +5 in three of your four perked skills, meaning essential perks can be reached quicker, and spells cost slightly less magicka. The greater power Adrenaline Rush allows for heavy use of shield bashing and lessens the need for attribute points to be placed into stamina, meaning more magicka and health by the endgame.

    Standing stone - Any of the guardian stones can be taken initially to speed up levelling; I would personally recommend the Thief as alchemy can be something of a nightmare to train. Feel free to switch guardian stones often as you go for specific perks. At a later point, I advise picking up the Lord stone, for the extra 25% magical resistance. This stacks with the magic resistance perks in Alteration and Block to create a deadly mage-killer.

    Attribute spread - Initially, I put most of my points into stamina to allow frequent use of shield bashing. Because I found a circlet of major magicka early on, I had enough points to cast my spells without needing additional magicka. At level 30, my base attributes were 200 magicka, 150 health and 240 stamina. My magicka and stamina were also boosted by various enchantments.

    Destruction - By channelling the destructive powers of fire and frost magic, the desert mage is a considerable force at long range as well as up close. Rune and cloak spells are the desert mage's speciality, he can fell all but the strongest of opponents without lowering his shield. At higher levels, destruction magic becomes even more deadly as it gains the ability to make enemies either flee in terror or become completely unable to move.

    Alteration - Defensive magic comes as naturally to the desert mage as its destructive counterpart. To become a true master of magic, one must not only be able to cast spells, but defend against them, and the desert mage has trained extensively in Alteration magic for this reason. Combined with the Lord stone and the Shield of Solitude, the desert mage can withstand a flurry of magical offence. The other spells in Alteration may prove useful in given circumstances. For instance, I used Magelight when exploring dark caverns, and Waterbreathing when searching for submerged treasure.  

    - Perks at Level 30 -

    Block - Through the use of a shield, the desert mage is able to withstand immense amounts of both physical and magical damage, as well as deliver powerful blows. Although the offensive capabilities of the shield are fairly trivial at first, they quickly skyrocket as the desert mage gains access to the Power Bash and Deadly Bash perks, allowing him/her to dish out over 50 damage per hit, with a prolonged stagger and a chance to disarm opponents.

    Alchemy - Probably the single most versatile skill in Skyrim, allowing the desert mage to boost the damage of his destruction spells and shield bashes, as well as soak up more damage from both warriors and mages. Since a shield cannot be poisoned, and I preferred to play as a “pure” shield-mage and carry no physical weapons, I only took the perks which enhanced beneficial potions. Alchemy plays an especially important role in the early levels when the desert mage is extremely squishy due to low armour rating.

    The Shield of Solitude is one of the most powerful shields in the game, with added resistances to physical and magical damage, and should be picked up at level 25 to boost the strength of the enchantments to the highest available. Until then, any found shield can used; look for enchanted versions with magical resistances. The Targe of the Blooded is a strong choice, as it deals extra bash damage over time which ignores all resistances.

    Since most spells used are of the “fire and forget” variety, mage robes are mainly used for the enchantments which reduce spell cost; magicka regeneration is not as important. The Archmage's robes would therefore be a fitting choice for the character, however I only completed the College questline up to Saarthal to pick up Ice Form, and therefore did not obtain the robes. Instead, I went with a set of Master Destruction robes, reducing the cost of my runes and cloaks.

    Use grand soul gems to bind some enchantments onto gloves and boots; this can be done at any level since enchanting is never perked, although at a higher level you will have access to stronger fortification potions. I went for increased magicka on the gloves, and increased stamina on the boots. Again, any mage hood or circlet can be used; look for enchantments that reduce the cost of your spells, or increase base magicka. I went with mythic dawn gloves from the quest Pieces of the Past, and regular mage boots, for a nice combination with the Master robes.

    For jewellery, I used a necklace of destruction and a ring of nullification. The necklace helped to take the edge off the huge magicka consumption of rune and cloak spells, which is why I chose it over Alteration; the only Alteration spells cast are either at the very start of a battle, or out of combat completely. Alternatively, the Gauldur Amulet increases all three attributes, making it a perfect choice for a hybrid character, especially at a low level when you do not have many attribute points going spare.

    - Equipment at Level 30 -

    The desert mage begins a battle by casting both offensive and defensive passive spells, namely an elemental cloak and a defensive flesh spell. A rune placed at his/her feet can also provide a secondary means of defence, as falling back will lead enemies right into it and often finish them off. At low levels (before Deadly Bash is acquired) your physical damage output will be limited to finishing off weakened enemies, so spells like flames and frostbite will be capitalised on in close quarters combat. The low magicka cost of these spells allows a continuous stream while you flank around either frozen or burning foes.

    There are various ways in which the shield can be used, all taking advantage of the right side of the Block skill tree. The guaranteed stagger and almost instant effect of a regular shield bash makes it perfect for interrupting enemy power attacks and spells. Once an adversary has their stamina drained by frost magic, repeated power bashes will quickly bring them down. The disarming bash is the ultimate end-game reward, allowing you to leave an enemy completely defenceless while your elemental cloak and shield bashes rain in. Potions also play a large part in combat, and can swerve a battle in your favour. Aim to always carry around several potions which restore your three attributes, give extra magical resistance, and fortify your archery skills (increase shield bash damage, although archery is not actually used.)

    Dragon shouts and powers complete the desert mage's fighting style. I only used two shouts in combat, Ice Form and Drain Vitality. The former was used against large groups of enemies, and allowed me to fight them one at a time, due to the extremely long duration when all three words are used. The latter was used more against mages, or strong warriors like bandit chiefs. Once hit by a full-strength Drain Vitality, a target will be unable to regenerate any of their three attributes. This means that a mage has no choice but to engage in melee combat after their magicka has been expended, and you can easily cut them down. Warriors lose the ability to power attack or shield bash, which also protects you from killmoves, and frost magic's sapping effect only enhances that of Drain Vitality.

    As a Redguard, the desert mage follows a basic code of honour fitting to a moralistic character. Those who make a living off killing and stealing, such as bandits, warlocks and the Dark Brotherhood, should be destroyed. As you travel between holds in search of artefacts and magic, help out as many people as you can, particularly if it involves reducing the threat to the people of Skyrim.

    On the civil war in Skyrim, I actually joined the Stormcloaks, as it seems to me like the more fitting side for a Redguard character. The Empire are only servants of the Thalmor, and weakening the latter will help to protect Hammerfell. Although the desert mage does not recognise Talos as a divine, he/she can still respect the Stormcloaks in fighting for their freedom and ancient customs.

    Daedra are to be avoided, and certainly not served. The only Daedric quest that I completed was Pieces of the Past, which involves preventing the reform of a daedric cult. The Volkihar vampire clan, who are followers of Molag Bal, were a late-game target for my character, and the Dawnguard questline also opened up two words of Drain Vitality, an important shout for the desert mage as discussed in the gameplay section.

    Dark magic, such as that which traps souls or reanimates the dead is off-limit, as is any form of illusion magic. Staves enchanted with these effects should be left where they are found, or better, destroyed to prevent their later use. Whether or not you summon atronachs through the use of staves is up to you; I used the reasoning that atronachs, when summoned correctly, are fully bound to the summoner and therefore only as evil as him or her.

    Once the character's story is complete (level 30) the choice of possible endings is yours to make. I left my character at the College of Winterhold, where she would be able to further study Alteration and Destruction magic and aim to become a master in both.

    Perk spread artwork - Dark-Indigo on DeviantArt

    Equipment spread artwork - Karbo on DeviantArt

    Thanks for reading and feel free to leave your opinions or give feedback in the comments!

  • Member
    February 1, 2016

    Hey guys, before some of you get to say anything, know that Redguards have a great deal of respect towards destruction magic. They just don't approve of illusion and conjuration magic because these affect the mind and soul.

    Excellent build, Harry! 

  • Member
    February 1, 2016

    that is true.

  • Member
    February 1, 2016

    You know, I've yet to play a build that runs through the shield mage playstyle... I really need to change that.

    Nice job on this build: the mechanics are solid, and the Desert Mage concept itself is really cool!

  • Member
    February 1, 2016

    I've recently played a shield mage fighting style. Its quite a blast!

    I can imagine how long getting through some questlines took because of the attempts to challenge them at a low level especially for foes who have magic resistances of their own. Through excellent detailed explanations, you cover it as well as explained your approach and procedure to it. Excellent job. If only more builds had that perfect throe organization and explanation of detail! Magnificent!

  • February 8, 2016

    This certainly deserves better than bloodworks.