Character Build: The Heister


The Heister

I first got the idea for this build when I was watching the remake of “The Italian Job.” I wanted to create a build where every trek into a dungeon felt like a grand heist, sneaking past your opponents to get the treasure at the end; then make your way out without getting killed. This build revolves around exactly that. A pure thief to the max, the Heister has almost next to nothing in terms of combat ability, but his unique set of skills allows him to bring in tons of loot and ill-gotten gains.

Race: I initially considered going Imperial, but ultimately went with Redguard instead. Using Adrenaline Rush to sprint endlessly and escape your pursuers is very fitting for the build. I also recommend becoming a vampire for the sneak/illusion bonuses, and besides, what thief doesn’t want to enjoy their riches forever?

Stone: The Steed. It’s all about that extra carrying capacity!

Stats: 1/1/1. I couldn’t decide on which stats to favor over the others, so I ended up going with a perfectly balanced spread.

Equipment: Thieves Guild/Guild Master’s/Blackguard’s Armor, depending on what you have available, along with whatever jewelry you can get your hands on (the Amulet of Articulation is particularly nice).

Shouts: Become Ethereal and Whirlwind Sprint are both nice for making escapes, the former from jumping off of high places, and the latter for putting some distance between you and your pursuers. Aura Whisper is an excellent alternative to Detect Life/Dead, while Throw Voice makes for a nice distraction. Finally, Marked For Death is absolutely essential for defeating dragons and other bosses (more on that later).

Quests: You’ll want to do the Main Quest up to getting the word for Whirlwind Sprint, and Destroy the Dark Brotherhood for the word for Marked For Death. I’ve also heard that the Thieves Guild questline might be a pretty good fit for this character too.



Illusion: Sometimes, the easiest way to sneak past your opponents is to calm them, and the Heister is excellent at doing so. Muffle and Invisibility are also great spells for stealth. Grab all the perks in this tree except for Master Illusion, Aspect of Terror, and Rage. Get the Quiet Casting perk as soon as you can; it’ll let you use shouts silently.

Alteration: Waterbreathing can be situationally useful, while Detect Life/Dead is great for stealth. The real jewel in the crown though, is Paralyze. When used in conjunction with Quiet Casting, it can be used to incapacitate a foe while you sneak right past them. Alternatively, it can disable your pursuers while you make your escape. Perk your way up to Expert Alteration, and grab Stability as well. With regards to leveling this skill, I recommend using trainers to get it to 50. Regular usage of Detect Life/Dead and eventually Paralyze can level it from there.

Archery: This skill was perked strictly for Eagle Eye, which was used to scout out the area to plan my next move. Keep in mind you have to have a bow and arrow on hand to utilize its effect (I went with a Long Bow since it’s nice and lightweight). Shooting an arrow also works well as a distraction or for disabling traps. As soon as you can, help out Faendal to unlock him as a follower, then repeatedly train Archery with him and take the gold back until the skill level hits 30 (the prerequisite for Eagle Eye).

Block: If Archery was taken strictly for Eagle Eye, then Block was taken strictly for Block Runner and Shield Charge. The former is an excellent ability that allows you to sneak around at walking speed, provided you have a shield raised (I used an Imperial Light Shield), while the latter works well for knocking targets out of your way when you charge past them during your escapes (much like the Dungeon Runner). As with Archery, you’ll want to invest a lot of gold into training this skill. Chief Larak in Mor Khazgur will train it up to level 90; then you can raise it the old fashioned way from there.

Sneak: Now we’re getting into the actual stealth skills. Obviously, this skill is going to be important to everything the Heister does, but the only perks you need are ranks in Stealth. Due to the emphasis on noncombat, the right side of the tree is useless, while the Muffle spell negates the need for Muffled Movement/Silence, and the aforementioned Block Runner trick is a good replacement for Silent Roll. Finally, Light Foot/Shadow Warrior are simply not worth the two/five perk investment for this build.

Lockpicking: Naturally, you’ll want a way to open up all the locked doors and chests you find in dungeons. Personally, I don't like Locksmith/Unbreakable (they take the challenge out of lockpicking) and Wax Key (prevents you from gaining lockpicking experience), but I got all the other perks.

Pickpocket: While the emphasis with the Heister is on looting dungeons, it’s nice to be able to take items off of folks in town every once in a while, and since we aren't killing any enemies (most of the time), the only way to get their items is through pickpocketing. Plus, Extra Pockets is great for hauling more loot. Perk everything except for Poisoned, Keymaster, and the last two ranks in Light Fingers.

Speech: You'll want to get a good price for your loot, and you’ll want the extra gold to spend at the various trainers you’ll be going to. Using the Amulet of Articulation means you can skip on Persuasion/Intimidation, but you’ll want to grab all the other perks in this tree.

You should be at level 55 once the build is completed.



So, how does one defeat their enemies in situations where they’re forced to kill them? That’s the million dollar question when it comes to noncombatant builds. Even the most pacifistic of characters might sometimes have to defeat an enemy to proceed, and the Heister is no exception. Of course, given his utter lack of combat ability, defeating anything tougher than a mudcrab is a difficult proposition for him.

The solution is Marked For Death.

Using all three words of the shout, it drains an opponent’s armor rating by 75 points per second for sixty seconds, leaving them with 4500 less armor rating after a minute has passed, dropping even the sturdiest foe’s AR into the negatives. The end result is that even the Heister is capable of taking out bosses with little more than MFD and a good weapon. If you want to, you can cast Paralyze on them while the drain kicks in. You don’t even need to use all three words or wait the full minute to get a noticeable effect.


Being a Thief

By now, you should have a pretty good idea on how to handle dungeons. Sneak around, using your various tricks and tools to avoid detection. If you are detected, take off running and make your getaway, knocking opponents out of your path with Shield Charge. Against bosses you have to fight, use Marked For Death and a weapon of your choosing. While most dungeons offer a shortcut out, I’d often go back the long way to keep things interesting. Specifically, I’d sneak my way in (the infiltration); then charge out (the getaway).

That being said, there’s as much fun to be had stealing goods in town as there is in looting a dungeon. Most folks will have a ring or something else of value on them; some even carry enchanted items. Here is a list of what to expect in people’s pockets. If you’re going for something particularly hard to pickpocket, consider breaking into people's homes at night and pickpocketing them in their sleep to take advantage of the Night Thief perk. Remember that it’s not a crime to simply look in someone’s pockets. Likewise, you can look through unlocked chests and it’s not a crime if you don’t take anything, and once you get Quick Hands you can do the same thing with locked ones. You should be able to get a lot of riches from chests between Golden Touch and Treasure Hunter. Also, if you can, take the opportunity to enter and survey places to determine what valuables are in there before you break into them. When it comes time to sell your goods, the enchantment bonus from your hood, combined with the perks invested in Speech, will ensure that you get a good price. Also, keep the Amulet of Articulation around for persuasion checks.

This was my first “pacifist” playthrough and thus one of my most unorthodox, but definitely one of my most entertaining ones too. If you liked this, then be sure to check out my other builds to see more!

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  • Hey Albino - truly enjoying the pacifist thief you've got here!

  • This is definitely going to be my next build!

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