There is an endless energy that flows from Jone and Jode, through the wind and earth,
and toward the Sands Behind the Stars. Khajiit cannot control that energy. But if they join with it
and follow its natural path, nothing can stand in their way.
The adepts of the Desert Wind monastery devote their lives to the way of Riddle’thar, the Khajiiti path to spiritual enlightenment. They seek to achieve internal balance and to serve their fellow cats by mastering the earthly and mystical energies that move through the world around us.
Desert Wind (or “Khaj Zhan” in Ta’agra) serves as a metaphor for the path that adepts travel throughout their lives. The desert that the Khajiit have called home for millennia is a source of abundance and sustenance, but it is deadly if not respected. Similarly, the path of Riddle’thar is endlessly rewarding for those who truly follow it as it is. However, those who seek to resist its current inevitably create suffering for themselves and others.
In a literal sense, Desert Wind Adepts learn to channel and utilize the awe-inspiring might of the desert. They wield the power of air, sun and sand to exercise complete control of their surroundings, and they are renowned as unarmed combatants who can strike with the power of a hurtling boulder and the speed of the wind.
I attempted to adhere closely to canonical knowledge of Khajiit history, culture and religion/philosophy in this build.
- Philosophical quotations throughout come from "Secrets of the Riddle'thar," itself a compilation of insights from Rid'Thar-ri'Datta, the First Mane.
- The Desert Wind Adeptorium has existed since early in the First Era, but it is a fairly blank slate within existing lore; details about its teachings are entirely based on my own creative license.
- The Ta'agra alphabet and most of the translations referenced in the build come from The Ta’agra Project, an excellent and lore-friendly (but non-canon) fan project that has greatly extended the limited in-universe information about this language.
This is a modded build. I have provided some brief descriptions of the key mods at the end of the write-up. The essential mods are Vokrii (perks), Odin and Elemental Destruction Magic Redux (spells) and Wintersun (worship/devotion). Each is lightweight, available on PC and Xbox, and qualify in my opinion as “vanilla-plus” additions to the game.
"Think now on Jone and Jode. Think now on their wax and wane.
The Two-Moons Dance offers a path to ja-Khaj'ay,
but even the cleverest Khajiit can drift toward the Dark."
Equipment: Self-enchanted light armor of your choice. There are many mods available that offer an aesthetic match for this build, such as the Sand Assassin armor from Warmonger Armory or the Regal Huntsman armor. I personally converted a variety of clothing items to light armor: Cultist Gloves, Temple Priest Boots, a Northborn Fur Hood and Telvanni Apprentice Robes (outfit depicted in image above).
Standing Stone: Lord -> Mage or Thief. In the early game, the Lord Stone’s boost to physical and magic resistance is extremely helpful, as the Adept is very vulnerable as a two-clawed combatant with no shield and paper-thin armor. As you come into your own, you can swap to the Mage or Thief to support advancement of magic skills or light armor progress, whichever needs it most.
Worship/Devotion: Riddle’Thar. Balance is a core concept for this character, and you can increase favor with Riddle’thar through Wintersun, by growing your health, magicka and stamina equally, as well as through meditation. Your devotion is rewarded with a small universal increase in skill effectiveness. (Note that followers of Riddle’thar still turn to guides such as Mara, Khenarthi and Alkosh as they journey; the adept can use any of the Nine’s shrine blessings while still remaining devoted to their path.) Once you have earned enough favor, you will be able to receive a random Blessing of the Manes ("an ancient Mane will grant a blessing they believe to be appropriate for the challenges you are about to face") when you meditate; these are usually moderate boosts to one of your core attributes.
Attributes: 1/1/1. Equal progression of health, magicka and stamina throughout. Each pool is equally important to the build, and this balance is favored by Riddle’thar as noted above.
Skills: Light Armor, Restoration, Alteration, Destruction, Enchanting.
Shouts: Become Ethereal, Cyclone, Unrelenting Force, Slow Time. How you incorporate shouts into your roleplay is up to you; I chose to leave my destiny as a gray area, learning selected shouts through intense meditation and focus, but not necessarily accepting the idea that I was the chosen Dragonborn (and not completing the main quest beyond The Horn of Jurgen Windcaller). Unrelenting Force and Cyclone are natural extensions of the adept’s mastery of earth and wind magic, and I viewed Slow Time and Become Ethereal as logical advancements in alteration mastery. Each of these were chosen for their utility in controlling the environment.
In 2E 311, Rid-Thar-ri’Datta (First Mane of the Elsweyr Confederacy) was revealed the Riddle’Thar Epiphany during a visit to the Temple of Two-Moons Dance. It was a key event in modern Khajiiti theology and history; Riddle'thar became the dominant religion across Elsweyr, sitting atop ancient Khajiiti religious teachings as a new, unifying monomythic tradition.
Riddle’thar defies categorization in terms of traditional Tamrielic religion; perhaps it is best seen as a righteous path that exists alongside the ancient Khajiiti pantheon, and a promise to those who follow the path that they will be delivered in the afterlife to Llesw’er, the Sands Behind the Stars. The epiphany revealed that the path to Llesw’er was available to those with balance, patience and serenity. Riddle’Thar teaches Khajiiti the value of cleverness, curiosity, kindness to one’s self, piety to the ancient gods that serve as guides on the path, and wariness against the darkness in the world that constantly seeks to claim their old and valuable souls.
While religion in Khajiiti society is unified, varying monastic traditions still exist across Elsweyr that offer different schools of mastery to guide their priests and acolytes along their path to Llesw’er. Desert Wind, located west of Orcrest in Anequina, is one of the oldest of these monasteries or “adeptoriums.”
The Desert Wind tradition is considered to be one of the purest distillations of the Riddle’thar. Over time, its priests learn that the physical, elemental and spiritual influences that govern the desert—unyielding stone, rolling sands, capricious winds, radiant sun, and even people encountered along the path—are all part of a singular energy that flows from Jone and Jode, through the world and toward Llesw’er. Desert Wind masters realize that controlling this energy is both impossible and unnecessary—one must simply learn to follow its natural course.
Skills/Schools of Mastery
The Desert Wind monastery instructs its students in five separate schools of mastery: Zalith (“heal” in Ta’agra), Yenith (“change”), Hara Khrassa (“iron claw”), Khaj Zhan (“desert wind”) and Kha’jay Aqir (“moonlight”). These schools roughly correspond with the Tamrielic disciplines of restoration, alteration, light armor, destruction and enchanting. Each school has one or more divine patrons as noted below in the descriptions of each school.
"The grace of the Zalith school: Merciful Mara grants us the power to heal wounds—
and mete justice out to those who would stand in the way of her love.”
The Zalith, or restoration, school begins with staple abilities such as reduced cost of casting (Mastery perk), more effective self-healing (Mercy), quicker regeneration of magicka (Inner Light) and recovering stamina (Respite). Once adepts complete their journey, they will be able to turn sun and healing magic against living and undead enemies alike (Harm, Sun’s Judgment) and increase their connection to Llesw’er’s guides and receive stronger shrine blessings from them (Blessed). (Note that spells in every school of magic benefit from a scaling effect in Vokrii, with damage/healing increasing by up to 40% as skill level rises toward 100.)
Key Spells: Healing spells, area protection spells, Hallowed Strikes. Healing spells are self-explanatory. Odin offers several stand-your-ground area spells, including the familiar Circle of Protection and the complementary Circle of Death, that the adept can call upon when needed. The essential spell from this school is Hallowed Strikes, an adept-level spell that imbues power attacks (unarmed included) with holy/sun damage. Initially, this will only affect undead enemies, but once you’ve taken the Sun’s Judgment perk this becomes a core element of combat and a staple spell before any melee engagement.
“The balance of the Yenith school: Mighty Alkosh grants us sight into the nature of things; when the path presents obstacles, we stretch reality in our favor and continue on our way.”
The Yenith school teaches acolytes how to focus the spiritual energy around them and redirect its flow temporarily. Mastering alteration, and restraint in its use, is an essential step in spiritual development; the power to reshape the world must always be used by a good cat to facilitate the journey along the path, and never to avoid the more difficult segments of that journey. Key lessons (perks) provide stronger martial and magical resistance (Mage Armor, Resist Magic, Alter Self), increased health (Alter Self) and more effective stripping of enemy defenses (Greater Malison).
Key Spells: Ebonyflesh, Corrosion, Vulnerability, Resist Elements. In addition to the familiar flesh spells, Odin offers alteration spells to debuff enemy armor (Corrosion) and magic resistance (Vulnerability), and to further buff one’s own elemental and poison resistance. In combination with resist magic perks, the Resist Elements spell provides a robust 65% resistance to magic. There are stronger area versions of the corrosion and vulnerability spells, but they are only available as rare random loot drops; I did not use these. Odin also adds a number of very cool utility alteration spells that are not needed for combat but are fun and very fitting for a spiritual monk, including Slowfall and Leaguestep.
“The cunning of the Hara Khrassa school: Noble S’rendarr and clever Baan Dar grant us vigor and swiftness, to defend against the strongest attacks and attack the strongest defenses.”
It is said that masters of the Riddle’thar are nearly unbeatable in weaponless combat. Acolytes within the Hara Khrassa school hone their “claw dancing” over time, learning to focus their power while using less stamina to do so (Iron Fist, Flurry of Blows). They also learn defensive arts that mitigate enemy attacks (Light Armor Mastery, Fit, Training and Matching Light Set). Finally, through years of grueling practice, they develop levels of stamina, speed and accuracy (Agility, Windrunner, Wardancer) that appear almost supernatural to untrained observers.
I have tried to minimize mod discussion in this build, but I would be remiss if I didn't recommend the simple Martial Arts animation mod available on Skyrim LE (and easily convertible to SSE for those of you on PC). It converts the three power attack animations into different kicking techniques, and adds greatly to the aesthetic of any unarmed playthrough. (It has no material impact on gameplay in terms of damage, speed, etc.)
“The quiet strength of the Khaj Zhan school: Blessed Khenarthi grants us the power of wind and sand to control, subdue and, if need be, eliminate the darkness that opposes us.”
The namesake school of the Desert Wind tradition, the Khaj Zhan school teaches students to master the power of earth and wind for purposes of control as well as direct damage. Other than the fairly uncommon choice of elements, training is similar to that of other schools of destruction magic across Tamriel. Over time, adepts learn to cast more powerful spells and use their magicka reserves more efficiently.
Key Spells: Wind and Earth spells. Other than Whirlwind Cloak, all of these spells are added by the Elemental Destruction Magic Redux mod. There are multiple versions of this mod; I chose the simpler version that does not add perks, and simply allows its spells to scale off of existing perks (Wind spells use shock perks, Earth spells use fire perks). Both elements offer unique crowd control effects—wind spells have a probability to “blow away” enemies (similar to the Unrelenting Force effect), while earth spells have a probability to stagger and also halt health regeneration for a short time. Synergizing these spells can provide a fairly unique combat experience; the strong crowd control provides additional optionality for tougher enemies. Concentration spells like Gravel and Gust do minimal damage but provide high chance of triggering status effects; the same is true for the Rock/Whirlwind Cloak spells. An interesting side benefit of the area Earth spell, Stalagmite, is that it creates a large impassable barrier for a few seconds, which can be used to briefly halt charging enemies, block passage through a hallway, etc.
“The wisdom of the Kha’jay Aqir school: Jone and Jode’s light suffuses our very being, empowering us to push through Namiira’s most devious and withering snares.”
Unlike the common form of enchanting practiced around Tamriel, the Kha’jay Aqir school teaches the adept to gradually absorb the energy that flows from Jone and Jode over time. Through intense meditation, the adept can infuse their vestments with that energy, in ways that permanently enhance their natural abilities.
You will want to aim for a rounded mix of improved unarmed damage, spell cost reduction, magicka/magic recovery, and stamina/stamina recovery. Balance in all things. Here are the choices I made in my playthrough; the choices are balanced for both early game (1st slot) and late game (2nd "Extra Effect" slot). Some players may prefer to replace some of the cost reduction enchants with additional magicka or stamina boosts; these choices are ultimately subjective and up to player preference.
Hood: Destruction / (Magicka Regen)
Amulet: Restoration / (Alteration)
Vestment: Alteration / (Restoration)
Bracers: Magicka / (Unarmed)
Ring: Unarmed / (Destruction)
Boots: Stamina / (Stamina Regen)
Enchanting was a challenging choice for the build, in terms of lore (trapping souls is bad) and mechanics (you don’t have a weapon to trap souls). But enchanting’s mystical nature is still a strong thematic fit with the build, and it greatly streamlines gameplay in terms of effective magic use. My solution was fairly straightforward: I collected a plethora of empty soul gems early on, then went out most evenings with a follower equipped with soul trap weaponry. During these nightly “moon excursions,” we would gather moon energy while engaging with various outdoor enemies and exploring the odd delve/dungeon (my midnight journey with Kharjo to Deepwoods/Hag's End was quite memorable). Between disenchanting found gear and these nightly excursions, I mastered this skill through very natural gameplay by level 25.
Combat and Gameplay
Desert Wind Adepts seeks peace by default. Wind and earth magic, along with shouts like Cyclone, Unrelenting Force, Slow Time and Become Ethereal, allow them to proceed through many of Skyrim’s environments without killing or even seriously hurting others. Gravel and Gust are the novice-level earth and wind concentration spells; neither spell does much damage, but casting both at the same time inflicts constant status checks on enemies and generally results in either a knock-back or a stagger within a few seconds. It is quite enjoyable to traverse an entire dungeon while simply activating slow motion, dematerializing and sending waves of enemies flying in every direction.
But Skyrim’s tundra presents realities as harsh as the deserts of Anequina; these must be confronted at times while walking the path. The adept’s end-game armor rating with Ebonyflesh will be around 325 AR (375 if you choose to keep the Lord Stone active), which is more than adequate for a mobile combatant. Wind and earth magic at advanced levels extend beyond crowd control options into devastating offensive tools. The Adept can instantly impale and entrap enemies with Stalagmites, or tear opponents apart with Tornadoes and Tempests. With perks and skill leveling in destruction, your area-of-effect adept earth and wind spells will do approximately 80 damage, while expert spells will do more than 120 damage. Further, restoration spells such as Vampire’s Bane and Circle of Protection are quite powerful against undead, and masters of the Zalith school can use these against the living with the Sun’s Judgment perks.
Last but not least, the adept’s unmatched unarmed skill is supported by multiple schools of mastery: Hara Khrassa training, Zalith spiritual focus, Yenith battle magic and Kha’jay Aqir enhancements, not to mention the adept’s Khajiiti heritage. Standard enemies can often be dispatched easily through basic unarmed attacks, but for especially dangerous foes, the adept can turn the tide with alteration spells to boost their defenses and weaken their enemy, and by channeling holy magic into their power attacks through the Hallowed Strikes spell.
This build allows for a fairly blissful ignorance of damage math, but here is a snapshot of approximate endgame melee damage potential. These figures assume late-game totals for your stamina pool and your restoration/destruction skill. Damage is somewhat variable, depending on your current stamina (your Iron Fist damage bonus scales with how much stamina you have left, so your damage is much lower after the first or second power attack) and on the type of attack (a left or right unarmed power attack will double your base damage, while a dual power attack counts as three normal attacks). Note that all totals will be halved on Master difficulty.
With these methods of empowering martial combat, the Adept’s claws become as deadly as any weapon wielded by man or cat. Challenging enemies (Deathlords, Marauders, etc.) or groups of enemies can be handled initially from range with crowd control spells, followed by unarmed attacks once the battlefield is tilted more in the adept’s favor.
The overall progression in this build felt very rewarding. Initially, the Desert Wind "initiate" is quite vulnerable to both physical and magical threats, and this is accentuated by the close-quarters, unarmed playstyle. During the early chapters, you can only stand toe-to-toe with many enemies for a few seconds before needing to dart away and heal. By the end, however, no enemy in Skyrim can reasonably hope to stop or even slow the Adept's journey.
I really enjoyed this playthrough, I hope you all will as well. The Way of the Peaceful Warrior was a great balm for the craziness of the past year! Credit is due to Teccam and Curse, from the start I viewed this character as a mystical cousin to their martial Dancer of the Two Moons. (Observant readers will also note that this build presentation borrows from their formatting template.) Teccam in particular provided really helpful direct feedback for the build.
Mods Used in This Build:
Vokrii, Odin, Elemental Destruction Magic Redux, Wintersun. Vokrii is a “vanilla-plus-plus” perk overhaul, and Odin is a “vanilla-plus-plus” spell overhaul; together the two mods provide the core of this build’s unarmed functionality and a good portion of its mystical abilities. Elemental Destruction provides the essential wind and earth spells for the build.
Wintersun introduces worship and devotion into Skyrim; while not required for the build to function, it provides an extremely relevant roleplay element to the playthrough. The Desert Wind Adept is devoted to the path of Riddle’thar, and Khajiit can select this devotional path at the start of the game.
The perks and spells used are all fairly straightforward; hopefully, the contextual discussion within the build provides enough information about the capabilities added by these mods.