Character Build: The Arcane Assassin

The third in my set of Arcane builds originated from the idea of having a stealthy mage build, able to pull off instant kill assassinations while still holding her own as a pure mage of sorts in open combat. This build contains some DLC content; read at your own risk. Now, on with the show...


The Arcane Assassin

After the Oblivion Crisis, many mages throughout Tamriel sought out ways to better harness the powers of Oblivion for good. They re-created an ancient Snow Elf combat style, seamlessly blending use of spells, Bound weapons, and protective spells which is still seen in the Falmer today. This overarching combat style was applied to create 3 new classes of fighter - the Arcane Bladesman, wielding a bound sword and specializing in destructive spells, the Arcane Assassin, using a bound dagger and specializing in Illusion magic, and the Arcane Marksman, using a bound bow with unrivaled skill.

The Arcane Assassin is as unpredictable as she is deadly. Wielding a Bound Dagger and a wide arsenal of spells, she can fight effectively both in and out of the shadows. Preferring to strike unseen and unheard, the Assassin can take down almost any foe with a well placed attack from a dagger, after which she can use Illusion magic to fade back into the shadows or cause havoc among the remaining foes. Alteration affords the Assassin the necessary protection in combat, and provides a variety of other useful effects. Finally, Destruction offers impressive stopping power in the form of projectile spells in open combat, as well as deadly exploding runes. A skilled Arcane Assassin can cast these spells in complete silence, and is seldom seen by her enemies for more than a couple of seconds.

Most Arcane Assassins forgo any sort of healing, preferring to rely on a strong offense and stealth skills to avoid harm, using purchased or found potions when necessary. Some choose to study Alchemy and use potions and poisons (I'd recommend against it - means you have no crafting skills!). Many choose to become vampires to enhance their stealth abilities and Illusion magic.

Race: I recommend Dunmer, with boosts to 4 of the Assassin's skills (5 if you choose to take Alchemy). Khajiit, Argonians and Bosmer also make good Assassins.

Stats: I recommend going 3/1/0. Since the Assassin uses only clothing and prefers to avoid getting hit, high health and stamina aren't necessary.

Stone: I recommend the Lady stone. The 25% Health and Stamina regeneration lets a vampire Assassin regenerate health and stamina while outside at daytime, but at a reduced rate.

Perks: Level 20 | Level 40 | Level 60

Major Skills:

Illusion: Illusion forms the backbone of many of the Arcane Assassin's methods. Used for remaining unseen and unheard using Muffle and Invisibility, causing havoc with Fury, scaring enemies off with Fear, or charming foes with a well-placed Calm spell. Skilled Arcane Assassins can even cast spells without making a soumd. Just the perks up the right side combined with Dual Casting will let your spells affect almost all enemies in complete silence, and up to Expert Illusion for Invisibility.

Destruction: High-powered blasting magic offers the Arcane Assassin a deadly option for open combat. Specializing in Fire spells, a few well-placed firebolts will wear down an enemy, and at higher levels with the Impact perk, will prevent them from attacking. Rune spells allow for a more stealthy approach, with the ability to place them along patrol paths and the like, mortally wounding most enemies that walk over them. Key perks are just up to Apprentice Destruction, Dual Casting and Augmented Flames, as well as Impact and Rune Master at higher levels.

Alteration: The nuances of the Alteration school let the Arcane Assassin use its power for more than just protection. Detect Life and Detect Dead when combined with Quiet Casting is incredibly useful for locating enemies through walls and in dark areas, and Ash spells can offer the Assassin an easy chance to escape. Obviously the Flesh spells are used for protection as well, since the Arcane Assassin wears only clothes. Key perks are up to Adept Alteration and Mage Armor, and up to Stability at higher levels.

Minor Skills:

One-Handed: Arcane Assassins wield daggers to strike unsuspecting targets swiftly and without mercy. These weapons are not used for open combat - they simply don't hold up against stronger weapons and armor of more experienced foes. Key perks are just ranks in Armsman - while taking Savage Strike might seem like a good idea to improve backstab damage by 25% while the Assassin is still, it requires taking a largely useless perk for the Assassin - Fighting Stance - first.

Sneak: The Arcane Assassin is skilled at moving unseen and unheard, augmented by Illusion magic. If an Arcane Assassin sneaks up behind an opponent with her dagger it's almost certain death for them. Key perks are just up to Assassin's Blade and a couple of ranks in Stealth.

Conjuration: The signature of the Arcane Assassin, the bound dagger, is conjured using Conjuration magic. They don't use this school of magic for anything else however. Key perks are just Novice Conjuration and Mystic Binding.


A bandit walks right into the Arcane Assassin's fire rune

Demonstration Video:


The Arcane Assassin prefers to seek out and utilize powerful magic items rather than create them herself.

First off, the weapon of choice. The Bound Dagger (purchased from Tel Mithryn on Solstheim) with the Mystic Binding perk deals the same damage as an unsmithed Daedric Dagger, but is weightless. Unlike other one-handed weapons, the Bound Dagger, like all daggers, are not affected by Fortify One-Handed damage potions and enchantments. This combined with the fact that daggers can't stagger opponents gives it very limited use in open combat past about level 10, especially on higher difficulties. It is, however, still useful for sneak attacks, dealing the same damage as 30 power attacks with the right perks and equipment.


The Arcane Assassin emerges from Invisibility to slit the throat of this unwary Dawnguard

For the head slot, I used a Circlet of Illusion to lower the magicka cost of high-level spells like Invisibility. Really any circlet would do, but remember not to wear any armor. The Mage's Circlet is also a good choice, as you pick it up during the College questline you'll need to get your body piece, the Archmage Robes. Besides looking totally awesome, you'll also be rocking huge Magicka, Magicka Regen and spell cost reduction enchantments, giving you all the magicka you need in the shadows and open combat, even while outdoors as a vampire. Picking up Savos Aren's Amulet in the College as a good choice for your neck slot, with a pretty big 50 point magicka boost.

Another 3 pieces of the Assassin's equipment can be acquired through the Dark Brotherhood questline. The Shrouded Handwraps and Shoes can be picked up right away, boosting your sneak attack damage with Assassin's Blade to a whopping 30x, and reducing armor noise by half. The reward from Recipe for Disaster, the Nightweaver's Band, boosts Destruction and Sneak by 10% each, a valuable asset to the Assassin.


Always approach combat situations stealthily, sizing up your opposition before determining a course of action. Conjure a dagger and armor, far away from your enemies if you don't have Quiet Casting, and take note of enemy positions and what they're doing (Detect Life and Detect Dead are a huge help with this. If enemies are far away from each other, simply sneak attack them in such a sequence that you won't be seen - or at higher levels you can cast Invisibility between each assassination. If they're on patrol routes, throw down a dual-cast rune so that they'll walk over it. If you're spotted, either try to re-hide (either walk around a corner and sneak, freeze them with an Ash Shell and leave, or cast invisibility), or bring out your more offensive spells. Use Fury on enemies to get them to start attacking each other, and shoot a volley of firebolts for heavy damage. Don't underestimate your open combat abilities; you don't always have to lurk around. For me that gets a bit boring!


The Arcane Assassin uses Fury before blasting her foes with Firebolt spells

As for roleplay, I evidently did the College and Dark Brotherhood questlines, as well as part of the Volkihar and Tel Mithryn questlines. Both are roleplay friendly for the Arcane Assassin, honing your magical and stealthy talents. I played as a Vampire who wanted money and power. I rarely did a dungeon if there wasn't a quest involved (the Volkihar sidequests are good for this). An entirely different outlook you could go for is that of a kind of justicar, where you execute the Dark Brotherhood (you can still get the Shrouded Handwraps and Shoes this way) and fight vampires from the shadows.

Well thanks for reading the third build in my Arcane series, I know I haven't made use of the Battleaxe (and I probably never will), but you can look forward to another fun Mage Armor oriented build in the future!

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  • As an assassin fan, this build is definitely right up my alley.
  • The demonstration video is not there. 

    • Thanks for the heads up, must not have been part of the code I had saved from the old site. I've added it back in now!

  • Hey Ponty, I noticed you hadn’t listed any shouts to use with this build. Throw voice seems like an obvious choice but what other shouts if any did you use?

  • Love seeing this pop to the top of the order; this was the build that opened my eyes to character building and really role playing in skyrim. Unique playstyle with gear collected from role-based quests, nonstandard approach to combat - just awesome and it was so early in skyrim’s run. Clean and efficient. Before this build all of my “roleplay” was “(fill in blank) comes to skyrim and does every quest.”

  • Pontys builds deserve way more likes than what they’ve got so far. 

  • I am loving this build so far, but I have one question: Why savage strike over critical charge? You do have silent roll in stealth, which works with charge. 

    I just don't see me standing up to swat a baddy with this build xD. 

    • I'm not Ponty but I believe I have the answer: while in stealth most sneak attacks are "standing" because you are not moving. This just makes your attacks stronger, particularly when the damage is multiplied by sneak modifiers. 

      • I wonder what comes out stronger? 25% or double crit? Moot with infinite leveling, I can get both. I'll have to mess with it when I'm not a level 12 scrub mage XD. 


        Thanks for the reply! 

  • Ponty! I love this one - btw you've hit Rank:Expert!

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