Sword & Shield Build Guide

Builds can get pretty hectic in Skyrim. Conjurers can try to summon their way to victory, but the spawns don’t always have reliable scripting. Stealth characters can try to strike from the shadows, but there are large portions of the game without hiding places. In the end, sometimes the best method is the tried and true sword and board.



RELATED: Skyrim: Stealth Archer Build Guide

There really isn’t a situation you can’t handle when you can block and slash at the same time. Archers will hit nothing but wood until you’ve cut them down. Wizards will cast feeble spells and then die in a single hit. And melee warriors won’t be able to find an opening as you slowly grind them down.

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Updated on June 19, 2023, by Gabrielle Huston: We want to ensure that you succeed as a sword-and-shield user! We’ve updated this guide to make all the information extra clear and give you some additional tips.



Choosing A Race

A screencap of Skyrim showing the character walking through the town

Right at the start of a playthrough, you’ll need to choose a race for your character. Since the races in Skyrim come with distinct benefits and drawbacks, it’s not just an aesthetic choice. Though you can realistically make a sword-and-shield build with a member of any race, there are two that we’d like to highlight as the best options: Redguards and Orsimer. Ultimately, it comes down to whether the extra stamina or the damage reduction is your preferred special ability.

You should also consider playing a female. There’s a quest, called ‘The Heart of Dibella,’ which grants an unusual reward at the end. You get a permanent 10 percent damage bonus against members of the opposite sex. Since sexism is real even in fiction, most of your enemies will be men, which gives female characters a real advantage.

Redguards

Skyrim - Redguard warrior

Special Abilities

Adrenaline Rush (Stamina regenerates 10 times faster for 60 seconds)

Resist Poison (Your Redguard blood gives you a 50% resistance to poison)

Starting Spells

Flames (Destruction)

Healing (Restoration)

Skill Bonuses

+10 One-Handed

+5 Alteration

+5 Archery

+5 Block

+5 Destruction

+5 Smithing

The big issue about leveling in Skyrim is that your enemies level with you. So if you’re getting stronger, they are too. This means that you should level up as little as possible and the best way to do that is by selecting a race that has high levels of your core skills. The Redguard has the best Block and One-Handed skills in the game, making this race a natural fit. The skill that regenerates stamina rapidly is a lifesaver too, since you’ll be needing a lot of it to execute your moves.

Orsimer (Orcs)

An orc warrior patrolling the roads in Skyrim the video game

Special Abilities

Berserker Rage (Take half damage and do double damage for 60 seconds)

Starting Spells

Flames (Destruction)

Healing (Restoration)

Skill Bonuses

+10 Heavy Armor

+5 Block

+5 Enchanting

+5 One-Handed

+5 Smithing

+5 Two-Handed

Playing as an Orc is equally good, it just depends on your playstyle. Their special ability, Berserker Rage, cuts the damage they take by half and allows them to do double damage (physical damage only). Both effects are extremely useful. On top of that, for the three core skills, they have the highest bonus to Heavy Armor, are tied for the highest Block, and have the second-highest One-Handed skill (second only to the Redguard). When all three skills are maximized, the Orc comes out five levels ahead of the Redguard. This is pretty close, so it really comes down to the special ability, as we said.

Choosing A Sign (Standing Stone)

Skyrim Starter Standing Stones

When you start the game, everything you’ll need is under the sign of the Warrior. Block, Heavy Armor, and One-Handed skills will level up faster with this sign activated. However, there are other standing stones to try out once you explore the world of Skyrim! You’ll probably want to keep the sign of the Warrior until you approach level 100 with the key skills, but consider these others, as well:

Sign

Buff

Standing Stone Location

The Lady

Regenerate Health and Stamina 25% faster

Found on an island in Lake Illinalta in Falkreath Hold, north of the city of Falkreath

The Serpent

Paralyze the target for 5 seconds and do 25 points of poison damage once per day

Found on an island in the Sea of Ghosts, east of the College of Winterhold

The Steed

Carry weight +100

Found west by northwest of Solitude in Haafingar Hold, north of the Statue of Meridia

Equipped armor has no weight and causes no movement penalty

The Tower

Unlock any expert level lock (or lower) once per day

Found on a mountain in Winterhold, equidistant between the cities of Winterhold and Dawnstar

The Lover

All skills increase 15% faster

Found directly east of Markarth and only a short distance north from Kolskeggr Mine

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Skills, Perks, & Leveling Up

A screenshot of the menu when it is time to level up.

As you play Skyrim and level up, you’ll gain experience in the skills you use the most often! Each level, you get skill points to use and can choose between increasing your Health, Stamina, and Magicka bars.

The latter choice you can play by ear, but you should basically be rotating between increasing your Stamina and Health. If you find yourself constantly out of the juice required to block and swing, then get stamina. But if you’re doing fine in that regard, picking up extra health will make you the tank you were born to be.

As for the former choice, your skill points, we’ve detailed some of the most important skills and perks below.

Skills & Perks

Skyrim Block Skill In Skill Screen

Skyrim Block Skill In Skill Screen

To level up Block, simply block. You’ll want to get as many points in this as possible and you’ll end up doing more damage as the game goes on, so if it seems to be going slowly, find an enemy that does a lot of rapid but light attacks, hold up your shield, and let the experience points pour in.

Enemies early on are always able to do just enough damage to make it so that your block doesn’t absorb a full blow, but even one point in the Shield Wall perk takes care of that. Eventually, with five points there, your block values double. So long as you can keep your leveling under control, blocking any physical attack will eliminate 100% of the damage, even late in the game. The one thing you can’t reduce is damage done with magic, but the Elemental Protection perk cuts it in half. That is more than enough to close the gap with any sorcerer and chop them down before they can get off a second cast.

As a word of warning, the Power Bash is not an effective use of stamina, so stay clear of that portion of the Block tree.

Skill

Key Perk

Details

Ranks

Required Skill Level

Block

Shield Wall

Blocking is 20% more effective (+5% per additional rank)

5

0 (+20 per additional rank)

Quick Reflexes

Time slows down if you are blocking during an enemy’s power attack

1

30

Elemental Protection

Blocking with a shield reduces incoming fire, frost and shock damage by 50%

1

50

Block Runner

Able to move faster with a shield or weapon raised

1

70

The One-Handed skill tree will be your primary source of damage. Many have tried and failed to do a power bash build, but, if it’s viable at all, it’s with a two-handed weapon and not with a shield, so go ahead and get comfortable with the fact that you’ll be using a one-handed weapon. Unless you want the game to last forever, you’ll likely want to pick up some points in the Armsman perk. Doubling your damage is exactly what you need to survive longer fights when stamina drain becomes an issue.

Skill

Key Perk

Details

Ranks

Required Skill Level

One-Handed

Armsman

One-handed weapons do 20% more damage (+20% per additional rank)

5

0 (+20 per additional rank)

Fighting Reflexes

Power attacks with one-handed weapons cost 25% less stamina

1

20

Hack and Slash

Attacks with war axes cause extra bleeding damage (additional ranks raise the bleeding damage)

3

30 (+30 per additional rank)

Savage Strike

Standing power attacks do 25% bonus damage with a chance to decapitate your enemies

1

50

It’s fun to believe that you’ll be able to block everything, but that just isn’t realistic. For those unlucky shots and swings, you’ll be leveling up the Heavy Armor tree. So slap any Heavy Armor on until you’re able to find the really good stuff later.

Skill

Key Perk

Details

Ranks

Required Skill Level

Heavy Armor

Juggernaut

Increases armor rating for Heavy Armor by 20% (+20% per additional rank)

5

0 (+20 per additional rank)

Well Fitted

25% Armor bonus if wearing all Heavy Armor: head, chest, hands, feet.

1

30

Tower of Strength

50% less stagger when wearing only Heavy Armor.

1

50

Conditioning

Heavy Armor weighs nothing and doesn’t slow you down when worn.

1

70

Reflect Blows

10% chance to reflect melee damage back to the enemy while wearing all Heavy Armor: head, chest, hands, feet.

1

100

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Weapons, Armor, & Potions/Poisons

The Best Swords

Unique sword Chillrend in Skyrim

We recommend two unique swords as the best: Chillrend and Windshear.

The tooltip on Windshear is inaccurate, but the community has deciphered what this weapon does and it is incredible. It has a chance to paralyze opponents with a bash maneuver, but that’s not even the best part. It inflicts a stagger on every single hit, including bosses and dragons. It is missable, so make sure to keep your eyes open. You’ll get it from the Hail Sithis! Dark Brotherhood questline. It’s stuck in the bow of The Katariah, wedged between some planks.

Chillrend already does the second most damage in the game as a base statistic, but it is the top one-handed sword for overall damage thanks to the enchantment that does loads more front damage on every hit. Top it off with a chance to paralyze the target and this weapon is tough to contend with. It can be snagged during “The Pursuit” a quest that takes you under the tunnels of Riftweald Manor in Riften.

The Best Shields

Skyrim Looking Down At Auriel's Shield Equipped While On A Balconey

Skyrim Looking Down At Auriel’s Shield Equipped While On A Balcony

As far as the best shields you can get in the game, we favor Auriel’s Shield and Spellbreaker.

Spellbreaker is the real icing on this cake. You only have one skill that helps deal with half of incoming spell damage, but what about the rest, right? Well, after this, you’ll be asking “What about the rest?” for the rest of the game. It absorbs 50 points of spell damage, well more than half of even the most severe fireball. You’ll get this as a reward for finishing the Daedric quest The Only Cure.

Auriel’s Shield, on the other hand, is one of the most sought-after pieces of gear in the entire game. Not only is the defense best in its class, but it stores up damage taken while blocking. Using a shield bash releases this damage in a short area in front of you, potentially turning this shield into the only offensive piece of gear you’ll ever need. To get it, go to the entrance of the Paragon Platform in the Forgotten Vale Forest. Place the Ruby Paragon in the pillar, then enter the portal. A Falmer Warmonger will be carrying around the shield inside, so you can loot it off of his corpse.

The Best Armor

A male and female character wearing Stalhrim armor in Skyrim

To top off your build, choose from some of the best armor sets: Daedric armor or Stalhrim armor.

There isn’t anything special as far as enchantments go on the Daedric armor. It’s just the highest-rated armor in the game, and that’s truly all you need: a lot of metal on your body in case the wood on your arm fails to block. You can buy them from the Dremora Merchant, pick them up as they drop off of revered and legendary dragons, or simply loot them from enemies who will drop pieces naturally after level 49.

Nothing competes with Daedric armor when it comes to raw armor numbers, but there’s more to defense than just static damage reduction. Stalhrim armor is 37 units lighter than the Daedric variety, allowing for greater movement and carrying capacity. Additionally, the full set reduces front damage by 25%. It can be found anywhere in Solstheim after level 35. Many merchants will sell it around this same time, including Baldor Iron-Shaper who will occasionally sell enchanted pieces.

Potions and Poisons

A player using an Alchemy lab in Skyrim

If you have extra time for leveling up skills other than the core ones we discussed above, it never hurts to train in Alchemy a little bit. Potions and poisons can make the difference between life and death in a fight!

The beauty of Alchemy in Skyrim is that a poison or potion can be comprised of lots of different effects and ingredients! The ingredients are associated with specific effects, so we’ll detail a few helpful effects that might come in handy, and list a few ingredients that will grant that effect.

Effect

Ingredients

Damage Health

  • Crimson Nirnroot
  • Deathbell
  • Falmer Ear
  • Void Salts
  • River Betty
  • Red Mountain Flower

Damage Magicka

  • Human Heart
  • Butterfly Wing
  • Daedra Heart
  • Flow Dust
  • Hagraven Feathers
  • Chaurus Eggs

Fortify Block

  • Bleeding Crown
  • Briar Heart
  • Honeycomb
  • Pearl
  • Tundra Cotton
  • Slaughterfish Scales

Fortify Health

  • Bear Claws
  • Blue Mountain Flower
  • Giant’s Toe
  • Glowing Mushroom
  • Wheat
  • Hanging Moss

Fortify Heavy Armor

  • Ice Wraith Teeth
  • Sabre Cat Tooth
  • Slaughterfish Scales
  • White Cap
  • Thistle Branch

Fortify Stamina

  • Boar Tusk
  • Garlic
  • Chaurus Eggs
  • Large Antlers
  • Lavender
  • Torchbug Thorax

Regenerate Health

  • Garlic
  • Juniper Berries
  • Vampire Dust
  • Luna Moth Wing
  • Nordic Barnacle

Slow

  • Deathbell
  • Large Antlers
  • Salt Pile
  • River Betty
  • Burnt Spriggan Wood
  • Bungler’s Bane

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Followers

Followers Of The Blades, Skyrim

As a sword-and-shield user, your choice of Follower is mostly uncomplicated. Unlike people who take on a sneaky playstyle, you don’t (necessarily) need a companion that won’t judge your choices. Your main concern is probably how the Follower compliments your own fighting style (which often means a long-range archer or magician). We’ve detailed a few good options for you below!

Name

Class

Morality

Max Level

Aranea Ienith

Mage

Will commit any crime

30

Jenassa

Ranger

Will commit any crime

40

Aela the Huntress

Ranger

Will refuse to commit crimes, but will not report crimes you commit unless you steal from her

50

Ralis Sedarys

Rogue

Will refuse to commit crimes, but will not report crimes you commit unless you steal from him

60

Valdimar

Sorcerer

Will commit any crime

50

Cheesing It, For Those So Inclined

Skyrim Fortify Restoration Glitch Used On Damage Ring

Skyrim Fortify Restoration Glitch Used On Damage Ring

We have to address the elephant in the room. Yes, the best way to do this build (and any build for that matter) is to do the Fortify Restoration technique. The development team says it’s not a glitch, but you can decide for yourself.

Here are the steps:

  1. Acquire and equip a full set of Fortify Alchemy gear.
  2. Gather a set of gear that has the stats that you like.
  3. Stock up on Salt Pile, Cyrodillic Longfin, and Abacean Longfin.
  4. Collect at least two of the following: Blisterwort, Spriggan Cap, Glowing Mushroom, or Sabre Cat Tooth.
  5. Make a Fortify Restoration potion.
  6. Drink this potion.
  7. Unequip your gear.
  8. Re-equip your gear.
  9. Repeat the last four steps until your fortify alchemy boost is in the millions.
  10. Make a Fortify Smithing potion.
  11. Drink this potion.
  12. Improve your set of gear that has the stats that you like.

It’s heavy on the cheese and it absolutely breaks the combat balance in the game. Now, it’s yours if you want it. But for those who are actually looking to play the game fair and square, you have the rest of the guide to get advice.

NEXT: Skyrim: Every Female NPC You Can Marry And Where To Find Them

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