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Character Build: The Vargr

Tags: #Race:Nord  #Character Build Barbarian  #Character Build Warrior  #Character Build Werewolf  #Rank:Legendary 
  • Member
    June 9, 2013

    Vargr is Old Norse for “wolf”; it is also a term associated with outlaws – lawless men who prowled the forests out of the reach of kings and chieftains. This build is a conflation of Old Norse sagas and folklore, drawing upon the heavily Norse-themed atmosphere of Skyrim. It is primarily a “werewolf build”, and is my answer to the problem of Beast Form in a game that centers around advancing your human form above all else. It's also a chance to roleplay a character similar to some of the most badass heroes of Norse legend: the heirs of Volsung - Sigmund and Sigurd the dragon-slayer.


    Most werewolf builds aim for control, perfectly synergizing the non-beast abilities of the character with the advantages brought by Beast Form.  In contrast, the Vargr embraces his feral nature, allowing instinct to follow its course.  By keeping armor out of the equation almost entirely, Beast Form becomes a true benefit during large, dangerous fights.  And by treating his Beast Form like the unpredictable curse it is meant to be – thanks to the Cursed Ring of Hircine - the Vargr must deal with some interesting and fun roleplay opportunities.


    Before we go further, a caveat:  this build was designed and played on Adept difficulty.  Since I never play on a difficulty higher than Adept, I have no idea about the prospects of this build at those levels, though I would assume the challenge would be much greater.  It is not a high-level, high-power build, but I think it offers a unique take on some gameplay options Skyrim provides. 

    Armor is for cowards!    ....  (on Adept, anyway...)


    Race: Nord

    Stone: Warrior, at least in the early game, and probably well into the middle levels.  Beast Blood's one disadvantage is its prevention of a Well-Rested bonus to experience, and the Warrior counters this – especially important in a build with so few active skills.


    Attributes:  Roughly 1:1 Health:Stamina.  Keeping these stats in balance allows for plenty of opportunities to sprint, bash, and power attack in battle, and the lower-than-normal Health pool keeps combat intense and risky, encouraging the use of Beast Form for difficult large fights.


    Major Skills: Two-Handed, Block, Smithing


    Minor Skills (unperked): Sneak, Speech, Archery


    Two-Handed is perfect for a character like this, who wants to hit hard and keep foes staggered.  It also happens to be my favorite melee combat style.  Greatswords are the weapon of choice for their speed and lore-friendliness.  With so few skills being used (and so many perk points to spend), I felt no qualms about exploring the Deep Wounds perks; the extra critical damage isn't fantastic, but ranging between 12-19 extra points of damage, it's not nothing. 


    Block is the main form of defense for the build – especially the Quick Reflexes perk.  The Vargr will also want to go up the right side of the tree to develop his bashing abilities for some extra options in combat. 


    Though neither Sigmund nor Sigurd are described as smiths themselves, Sigurd was fostered by Regin, a dwarf-smith who forged the mighty sword Gram that was used in the slaying of Fafnir.  It's reasonable in any case to assume a character like the Vargr would want to keep his weapons in top condition – a good offense, and all that.  Arguably all that is needed here is Steel Smithing and Arcane Blacksmith (to improve any magical boots or gauntlets he finds and the Skyforge Steel greatsword he wields), but going up the left side of the tree will get us to Dragon Smithing – a fitting way to use the bones of his enemies.  Along the way, Advanced Armors unlocks Nordic weapons, which are a great fit aesthetically. 


    The Vargr isn't above sneaking and getting the drop on foes, especially foul witches and mages.  He needs to get in close to be most effective – not to backstab, but to get within range of a well-timed charge.  I didn't spend any perks in this skill; it will level up as it is used.  However, some investment in the base Stealth perk may be useful for a Vargr who plans to attain higher levels.

    Pounce from the shadows...


    Speech will advance naturally.  When the Vargr has access to trainers, he'll want to make use of them – which means getting gold and selling loot.  Again, I didn't find it necessary to perk this tree, but a higher-level Vargr might consider spending some points here to allow for more training.


    Archery is used to occasionally open fights, to shoot at circling dragons, or to hit ranged foes who can't be charged.  I avoided perking this because I so love Archery that it would be too tempting to use it all the time.  It's another good option, though, for a higher-level Vargr who wants some additional punch. 


    The Build

    Level 23 Perk Spread


    Two-Handed – Barbarian (5/5), Champion's Stance, Deep Wounds (2/3), Great Critical Charge,

    Devastating Blow, Sweep


    Block – Shield Wall (3/5), Quick Reflexes, Power Bash, Deadly Bash


    Smithing – Steel, Elven, Advanced


    With this build I found myself hoarding perk points until I could spend them in one of those 3 skills, rather than spreading them around into things like Archery, Sneak, Speech, or something else.  It makes for a more focused character, and it's fun to suddenly be able to spend 3 or 4 perk points once your skills hit an important threshold.  The perk spread actually has several perk points left over given its level – save those for more Block, Smithing, or Two-Handed perks, or branch out and use them to advance some of the build's minor skills.



    Weapons: Skyforge Steel Greatsword, Silver Greatsword, Hunting Bow


    Attire: Roughspun Tunic or Ragged Trousers, Hide Boots, Iron or Steel Gauntlets, Cursed Ring of Hircine, Necklace (Resist Magic or Fortify Health Regen.).  Optional Steel Helmet for difficult battles.


    The Silver Greatsword is a good option for lower levels, where it will outshine your main weapon against draugr and vampires.  But once your Smithing skill allows you to improve the latter so it does 20 points more damage than the former, ditch the Silver Greatsword. 


    The boots and gauntlets are for looks (and, mechanically, for the various enchanted versions of those items that can be found); with low armor skill and no armor perks, you'll be sitting around an AR of 15, even with the tempered versions.  (As we all know, werewolves prefer ragged clothing, and it fits the aesthetic of a rough outcast.)

    Admit it, there's a certain aesthetic appeal here.


    Shouts: Animal Allegiance, Aura Whisper, Elemental Fury, Whirlwind Sprint. These shouts emphasize the Vargr's more-than-human speed (Elemental Fury, Whirlwind Sprint), his ability to “scent” danger (Aura Whisper), and his uncanny knowledge of the wild beasts and their ways (Animal Allegiance).  In Volsunga Saga, Sigurd was able to understand the speech of birds after tasting dragon's blood – as Dragonborn, the Vargr has a similar ability. Kyne's Peace could be used instead of or in addition to Animal Allegiance, but the latter is more useful, especially in Falmer caves. Only one word is needed – additional words simply extend the duration of the effect (the same is true for Aura Whisper).  Elemental Fury and Whirlwind Sprint, however, benefit from 2 or 3 words.


    Quests/Roleplay: The Vargr is an adventurer in the old Norse tradition, but his savagery makes him an ambiguous figure.  Jarls and their laws mean nothing to him, apart from the coin they offer as reward for his deeds.  Operating with a bounty in one or several holds is all part of the experience here.  You can choose to pay it off at some point (paying “wergild” for your crimes), or simply live with the price on your head.  Here are some suggestions for roleplay-friendly ways to acquire the status of an outlaw, a Vargr:


    Attack bands of Imperial soldiers and/or Thalmor.  As the engineers of your imprisonment and (almost) execution, these are your sworn foes. 


    Simply wear the Cursed Ring of Hircine – when you transform in front of witnesses, let one of them live to

    spread tales of your fearful prowess. 


    Respond to insult with force.  A ferocious warrior and a dangerous man, the Vargr doesn't let lesser men besmirch his name or skill. 

    Pleased to meet you, too, Nazeem.


    The Companions are essential for Beast Form.  They are also an excellent start for a warrior looking to prove his mettle.  If you plan to use different howls, you'll need to finish the questline and start doing Aela's quests.  I find that the initial Howl of Terror is excellent, though – and it's very fitting for the character concept.  Plus, becoming Harbinger might not make sense for a character who is likely to find himself in trouble with the law.


    After acquiring Beast Form, the Cursed Ring of Hircine is the next goal. That's right – the cursed ring.  Beast Form is always portrayed as something of a curse in TES games, but in Skyrim the drawbacks are negligible.  The Cursed Ring requires some self discipline and RP, but it simulates the unpredictable nature of the “gift”.  Of course, it will unequip itself after your first forced transformation, and after every transformation thereafter, but just keep putting it back on. 


    The fun thing about this is you never know when you'll transform.  As long as you're not in a city or a dungeon, you have a 10% chance of shifting every minute. Sometimes you'll play for an hour and nothing will happen.  Then you'll be walking down the road on the way to sell some of your gear and feel the beast rising within... Do you try to slaughter any witnesses, giving in to your bestial nature?  Or flee into the wilderness and live as a hunted man with a bounty on your head? 

    A shifted Vargr, ready to pounce on his prey.


    Note that you can still transform normally, using the Beast Form power.  Save this for times when you know you'll need it – tough fights at the end of dungeons or questlines, for example – and make the most out of your unpredictable transformations when they occur. 


    Some of the Main Quest is required in order for the Vargr to make use of the shouts that will complement his bestial nature, even in human form.  It is also required in order for dragons to appear in the world.  But besides killing the beasts when he finds them and plundering their hoarded treasure, the Vargr has no special desire to fight Alduin and save the world.  I always find my interest in the Main Quest plummeting right around the time I meet Delphine, so feel free to use that as a stopping point. 


    The thane quests are really not for this character, though making a home in the wilderness via the Hearthfire dlc is a great idea. Falkreath is an easy, natural choice for location, but any of the Hearthfire homes could work. 


    Similarly the Civil War and other guild quests are no-gos. 


    On the other hand, Solstheim offers plenty of opportunities for a wandering outcast – especially one with an increasingly large bounty on the mainland.  The Dragonborn expansion includes some new content for werewolves which would be fitting; these take the form of rings, but since you're using the Cursed Ring, you'll have to be careful how you use these.  My preference is to only wear the new werewolf rings just before I shift into Beast Form via the Beast Form power – in other words, only get the benefits during a planned transformation.  You're still running 99% of the game with the Cursed Ring and all the associated unpredictability, but this allows you to take advantage of some of the new stuff.


    Gameplay:  There's something thrilling about playing a practically-zero-armor, greatsword-wielding warrior.  You have to be faster, stronger, smarter than your foes – just like the wolf that is the namesake of the build. 


    In human form, footwork is crucial – and your victory begins before the first swing of your sword.  Against crowds of foes like mages, sneak into a good position before bursting out of hiding with a Great Critical Charge.  After obtaining the Sweep perk, think about how you could position yourself to hit 2 or more foes at once:  back them into a wall, or take a stance at the entrance to a passageway. 


    Learning the timing and flow of combat is fun, and easier once you pick up Quick Reflexes.  Your greatsword gives you the advantage of reach against most enemies, and your lightweight outfit is actually an advantage – not burdened down with heavy armor, you can easily step out of range and learn to avoid blows entirely.  Answer with a well-timed power attack or bash to keep them staggered, sprint-charge to your next foe, and if you get overwhelmed, flee into the woods and call upon the Beast Blood coursing through your veins. 

    In Beast Form, you know the drill - sprint and power attack to knock back all but the most massive enemies, Howl to keep the prey running, and work up the right side of the Werewolf perk tree until you decide to get Totems for Aela. 


    It's a fun, surprising, aggressive and simple build that keeps you on your toes - and your enemies on their heels.  If you've never played an unarmored two-handed warrior, or never experienced the thrill of shifting into Beast Form unexpectedly, give it a try! 

    A Vargr savors a victory over a Blood Dragon.

  • Member
    June 9, 2013
    This build is amazing dude! I love using the Cursed Ring of Hircine, I remember doing the quest for it, and transforming right outside Bloated Man's Grotto, and inside the hunt truly began! Could you use, say Fur Armour instead of rags on higher difficulties? I normally play on Expert, but up the difficulty for characters that I really want to feel like they're fighting for their lives, so unarmored is a no-go. Does the ring work inside dungeons? I can't remember if you mentioned it doing that. A massive +1
  • Member
    June 9, 2013

    I love the twist this gives to werewolves.

  • Member
    June 9, 2013

    According to the Prima strategy guide (which has been wrong, so keep that in mind!), the Cursed Ring has a 10% chance of transforming you into Beast Form each minute you spend outside - it doesn't do it when you're in a dungeon or in a town.  This seems right based on my own experience. 

    I'm not sure, but I suspect the time spent fast-traveling might factor into that as well, so you might have a higher chance of shifting randomly if you fast travel.  This is based on a time I FT-ed with Vilkas during the Companions questline - we FT'ed to one of the Silver Hand forts and as soon as we arrived I shifted.  It was perfect, actually! 

    Of course, you don't need to wait for the random transformation to use your Beast Form power when you need it.

    For the armor question, I actually kept a set of Fur Armor in my inventory "just in case".  Turns out I didn't need it (yet!), but on Expert it might be a good idea.  Fur can't be upgraded with any Smithing perks, so you'll still have some bragging rights.

  • June 9, 2013

    Really nice build +1 Might even do a playthrough on this one! (I only have 4 characters so that is a huge compliment) One question though: How will this character survive beyond level 40ish?

  • Member
    June 9, 2013

    Very interesting build! I'm actually getting tired of playing intricately planned and over powered characters. Maybe I'll give this a try.

  • Member
    June 9, 2013


    It would be great to figure out exactly what the numbers were on the cursed ring.  I don't think the UESP has any hard numbers on it, so all I have to go on is the Prima guide.  I guess one could look into the CK....?  I play on PC but I'm no modder, so any testing like that is beyond my abilities. 

  • Member
    June 9, 2013

    Well, I rarely get above level 40 on *any* of my characters!  

    My guess, though, is that Beast Form would become more important.  That would mean you'd want to rest more frequently (to take advantage of the once-a-day use), and/or take advantage of the random transformations provided by the Cursed Ring (things like getting Savage Feeding so you can feed on goats and other easy prey to extend the time limit, allowing you to clear out entire dungeons without fear of shifting back into human form). 

    Beast Form is really amazing even at low levels, and at high levels stuff can get staggered just as easily, so that's really your ace in the hole. 

    Aside from that, in human form, you'll want to *really* work on your timing, footwork, and tactics with the greatsword, probably put some points into Sneak so you can position yourself just right, get your Smithing really high so every hit feels like absolute punishment, and use your shouts to best advantage. 

  • Member
    June 9, 2013

    Ah, cool, thanks, I may check that out.  Even without the numbers, though, I'm finding it's triggering often enough to keep things interesting, but not so often that it's ridiculous. 

  • Member
    June 9, 2013

    Awesome one man! +1

    Love the use of Cursed Ring - it's the way the game should be played IMO. being a werewolf is a curse not a blessing. I can see this being viable on higher difficulties as well - the werewolf form is very powerful and with equipment like this you can easily dodge enemy attacks. Perhaps dragons may be a bigger threat but you can always buy potions of Fire/Frost resistance (along with Nord racial Frost resistance frost dragons will become a joke) and with your necklace you'll be able to fight them pretty reliably. Their melee bites will not prove much challenge as well with your dodging capabilities and Quick Reflexes along with bashing.