To speak of the dark gambol of the dro-m'Athra…
When true cats die, their souls are lifted by Khenarthi and flown to the Sands Behind the Stars, to play and prey until the Next Pounce. When bent cats die, their souls are dragged down by Namiira into the Dark Behind the World, to serve the Heart of Lorkhaj until their tails are straight. These, then, become the Dancers in the Darks, where they whirl to no music but the beating of the Heart. Sometimes these dancers seep up through the cracks in Nirni to the moonlit world, and walk among us as if made of moonless night. Then we call them dro-m'Athra. And this is a name of fear.
For a true cat to see a dro-m'Athra do the Bent Dance is to feel his tail twitch in time, and feel the pull of the Darks. As each twitch pulls the true cat further from the moons-light, the cat's shadow grows longer and more bent. And if the tide of the Darks grows greater than the tide of the Lights, the true cat is lost, and becomes a bent cat. Then comes the true peril, for a dro-m'Athra can twist out a bent cat's soul, and send it through the cracks to the Darks. Once it hears the beating of the Heart it, too, will dance bent. – Littermates of Darkness
Now that Skyrim’s been out for several years, it has become increasingly difficult to come up with exciting new gameplay mechanics to incorporate into character builds. This build covers one such mechanic, one that isn’t new but it almost never used in builds. I’m sure at least some of you are aware that if you have a weapon equipped in your left hand but nothing in your right, you can attack with your fist via the right trigger and your weapon the left. However, unlike dual-wielding, pressing both triggers simultaneously doesn’t let you attack with both weapons simultaneously, making the fist and weapon combo rather ineffective in combat. However, the Dro-m'Athra can still use it to his advantage. By using his fist to deal damage and an offhand dagger enchanted with health absorption for healing, the Dro-m'Athra is a one-cat wrecking crew even without considering his deadly array of spells.
Race: Khajiit are the usually the first choice when it comes to unarmed builds, and with good reason; they can deal 22 damage per hit with their fists right from the get-go. Aside from that, they get a couple of useful skill boosts (+10 Sneak and +5 Pickpocket). I also recommend becoming a vampire for the 25% Sneak bonus and Embrace of Shadows.
Stone: Initially, you’ll want to use the Steed Stone. Since it negates the weight of your armor, it’ll also eliminate most of the movement noise you make when sneaking (though you’ll always make some noise without a muffle effect, armor or not). Later on, once you’ve obtained either the Conditioning or Silence perk, switch to the Lord Stone, as its defensive boost is pretty ideal.
Stats: 1/2/0. Since I refrained from using power attacks, stamina isn’t particularly useful, but both health and magicka are important.
Shouts: There are two important shouts for the Dro-m'Athra. First is Marked for Death. Being able to increase your damage output is huge when playing an unarmed character, and that shout drops an enemy’s AR fast. Second is Disarm. I’ll talk more about it in the combat section, but for now, note that you should use the dungeon backdoor glitch to get the word for it located in Snow Veil Sanctum, as this character has no reason to do the Thieves Guild questline.
Heavy Armor: Aside from being your source of defense, this tree also has the Fists of Steel perk, which will further increase your damage output, making it the number one perk to grab, along with Well Fitted and ranks of Juggernaut. Later on you can grab the rest of the perks in the tree as well.
Destruction: For everything that your fists can’t hit, there’s destruction spells, and cloak spells can augment your melee damage nicely. What element you choose to specialize in isn’t particularly important; I went with lightning since few enemies resist it. Perk your way up to Expert Destruction and grab the perks associated with your element of choice as well.
Conjuration: Atronachs are useful at all ranges for dealing damage and taking the heat off of you, while Soul Trap lets you capture souls inside the Black Star (be sure to grab it) that can be used to recharge your dagger. Once you hit 90 Conjuration, you can complete the associated ritual spell quest for a Sigil Stone that’ll let you create Daedric equipment at the Atronach Forge. Perkwise, work your way up Expert Conjuration and through the atronach side to Twin Souls.
Enchanting: You’ll need this for a strong absorb health enchantment on your dagger, and spellcost reduction enchantments will make it easy for you to use plenty of magic. Perk your way up the center tree to Extra Effect. Later on you can grab Soul Squeezer/Siphon for the sake of convenience.
Pickpocket: A key part of the Dro-m'Athra’s strategy is to disarm enemies so that they have to fight on his terms. Thus, you’ll want to grab Misdirection as soon as possible. Fortunately, Pickpocket is one of the easiest skills in the game to level. I normally don’t max out Light Fingers, but for this character, I did just that in order to make sure that I’d have the 90% maximum pickpocket chance when taking weapons. Aside from that, I also worked my way up to Perfect Touch and grabbed Extra Pockets as well.
Sneak: Obviously, in order to pickpocket the enemy’s weapons, you’ll need to remain hidden. The sneak enchantment on your gauntlets and the Nightstalker’s Footsteps bonus from being a vampire means that you won't need the extra ranks in Stealth, so just perk your way up the left side of the tree to Shadow Warrior.
You should be at Level 55 once the build is completed.
I went with Daedric armor for a high armor rating, stylish looks, and the highest damage increase possible through Fists of Steel (since the Daedric Gauntlets have the highest base armor rating of any set of gauntlets in the game). Second effect listed is the one added with Extra Effect.
Daedric Dagger of the Siphoner (Absorb Health/Magicka)
Daedric Helmet of the Warlock (Destruction/Conjuration)
Necklace of the Magehunter (Bone Hawk Necklace with Magic Resistance/Magic Resistance)
Daedric Armor of the Sorcerer (Destruction/Conjuration)
Daedric Gauntlets of the Pugilist (Unarmed/Sneak)
Ring of the Beast (+100 Health/+20 Unarmed Damage)
Daedric Boots of the Firewalker (70% Fire Resistance)
For the Magic Resistance, you’ll want to disenchant the Shield of Solitude for its more powerful variant of the effect. This will also allow you to use it alongside the regular version when creating the amulet. While the Daedric Dagger is one of the strongest daggers in the game, a lack of Armsman perks means that you’ll do poor damage with it, making it only useful for healing. Assuming you have the Sigil Stone, all of the Daedric items can be created at the Atronach Forge by using their respective Ebony piece, Daedra Heart, Centurion Dynamo Core, and Black Soul Gem. The exception is the Firewalker boots, you’ll have to use the random enchanted Daedric armor recipe (Void Salts, Daedra Heart, Ebony Ingot, and a filled Greater, Grand, or Black Soul Gem) and keep reloading until you get it. The 70% Fire Resistance will more than compensate for your weakness to fire as a vampire, assuming you have Dawnguard installed anyway. Speaking of which, you can only obtain the Ring of the Beast through the Volkihar questline, so if you don’t have the Dawnguard DLC, use a ring enchanted with Unarmed and (the Shield of Solitude version of) Magic Resistance instead and replace the regular version of the effect on the amulet with Fortify Destruction.
Most of the Dro-m'Athra's fights start off from stealth. When pickpocketing enemy weapons, you’ll want to go for the big two-handers the most, as they hit the hardest. You can also go for armor once you have the Perfect Touch perk; taking shields is a particularly good idea since they can be hard to deal with in unarmed combat. I wouldn’t bother taking anything from mages, however, as their robes don’t significantly enhance their fighting capabilities.
Of course, in the earlygame, you won’t have the option to pickpocket enemy weapons. This is where the Disarm shout comes into play. The shout only works on enemies below a certain level, and since enemies scale with your level, that means the shout tends to lose its usefulness mid to lategame, but you’ll have Misdirection/Perfect Touch anyway.
Once you’re detected, cast a cloak spell, summon your most powerful atronach (endgame you can use Dremora Lords), two if you have Twin Souls unlocked, and break out your fist and dagger combination, the former for damage, and the latter for healing when you need it. Against distant targets or enemies you don’t want to engage in melee combat, you have your arsenal of destruction spells.