The power of the Voice is capable of utilizing the effects of several different skills (Destruction’s fire damage, Illusion’s fear, etc) to the point where it could be relied upon as its own skillset if it weren’t for the limitations of shout cooldown. Fortunately for us, there are a couple different methods for achieving 100% fortify shouts. However due to its very nature, it’s a rather broken gameplay mechanic. With that in mind, I developed this build with several limitations to balance out the ability to shout whenever I want. It has 0 AR, no useful enchantments to work with outside of fortify shouts, no defense against magic, no standing stone, is permanently stuck at level 1, and yet is perfectly playable on Master and probably Legendary too.
So what are the implications of never leveling up? Well, most enemies, to some degree, scale to your level, but on the other hand, many dungeons set the enemies to a certain minimum level, putting you at a disadvantage. Your stats are stuck at 100, which isn't a big deal for magicka and stamina, since they aren't terribly useful to the build, but it means you'll have very little health to work with. Combined with the utter lack of defense, this means that all it takes is a couple of hits to take you out, even on higher difficulties. Since most loot is leveled, most equipment you’ll come across is the basic Iron, Hide, and the like. Most importantly, however, you’ll never be able to gain any perks, preventing you from developing any skills other than your Voice. As such, this build, at its core, is essentially a shouts-only build, which is a blast to play.
Many years ago, the Greybeard was granted the honor of joining the solitary monks of High Hrothgar to learn the Voice. Though he was a gifted student when it came to learning shouts, over time he began to develop a difference in views with the other Greybeards. The Way of the Voice dictates that the Voice is to be used in worship of the gods, and that one should “Speak only in True Need”. As such, the Greybeards practiced a pacifistic and isolationist policy, which didn't sit well with our character. As time passed, he developed his own philosophy on how the Voice should be used. He believed it should not be used solely for worship of the gods, as the Greybeards use it, nor should it be used for war, as the ancient Tongues of old used it. Instead, it should be used to protect and serve those in need, so that all life on Tamriel could benefit from its gifts. He tried to convince the others of his views, citing that “even the Greybeards must bend to the winds of change”, but to no avail. Fed up with their stubbornness, he eventually left High Hrothgar, to seemingly never return.
After his departure, he spent many years wandering Tamriel, helping those in need. While in Cyordiil, the Stormcloak Rebellion erupted, and he resolved to return to Skyrim and help those that the war had left destitute. However, he was caught in an Imperial trap near the border, setting in motion a chain of events that led to the discovery that he is Dragonborn and destined to stop Alduin. As a result, he returned to High Hrothgar, where he had a reconciliation of sorts with the Greybeards. They would help him realize his destiny, and "agree to disagree" with their conflicting philosophies.
During this time, he also found himself joining the ranks of the Companions, as he found their philosophy of lending their strength to those who need it rather than for war to be similar to his own. In a moment of weakness, he allowed Skjor to convince him to become a werewolf. When he died, the Greybeard was enraged at his death and was swept up into Aela’s campaign to wipe out the Silver Hand. However, Kodlak’s death made him realize how far he had strayed far from his own beliefs, and so he resolved to cure himself, Kodlak’s spirit, and anyone else he could of Lycanthropy.
As everyone knows, you can’t start the game rocking 100% cooldown reduction with a couple of shouts already under your belt, so here’s the path that you should take to reach that goal.
You should be able to escape Helgen no problem by simply running past most things. Hadlof will also keep enemies off your back. Once you’re out, speak with Gervor, then Balgruuf and Farengar to complete Before the Storm and start Bleak Falls Barrow, but don’t retrieve the Dragonstone just yet. Instead, go to Kodlak and complete Take Up Arms (punch Vilkas’ shield a few times so he can “see your form”), then accept the job offer Farkas gives you once the quest is finished. The job should be easy enough, but if you need help, recruit Uthgerd the Unbroken as a follower; you'll need a follower later anyway.
Next, do Proving Honor. In Dustman’s Cairn, run past the Draugr and pull the lever that traps you and brings the Silver Hand out, only for Farkas to kill them all. Be sure to collect their Silver Swords as they sell for a decent bit of cash and are absolutely devastating undead slayers at level 1. You'll also want a good shield and set of armor. Be sure to get the word for Fire Breath while you’re here. After Proving Honor, you’ll need to complete a random quest (again, it should be easy enough, particularly if you have Uthgerd to help you out), then you can do The Silver Hand and become a werewolf. At Gallows Rock, simply run past the enemies as a werewolf, quickly kill Krev the Skinner, and run back out.
Now it’s time to obtain 100% fortify shouts. Grab Uthgerd and take her with you to Solitude. Buy five Amulets of Talos at Radiant Raiment (using the save-punch-reload method of resetting merchant inventories, I was able to buy all five in about ten minutes), then find a secluded area and perform the equipment stacking glitch to equip all of them at once. Do not take the Amulet of Talos off of Roggvir’s corpse; it is bugged and will prevent you from equipping multiple Amulets of Talos.
Now that you have 100% fortify shouts, it’s just a matter of obtaining enough shouts to rely on them as your sole means of combat, so it's time to go back to the Main Quest. Fight your way through Bleak Falls Barrow (the Silver Sword will make quick work of the Draugr), then return to Whiterun and do Dragon Rising (Irileth and the guards will take out the dragon for you). After that, head up to High Hrothgar (run past any enemies you can’t handle) and have a chat with the Greybeards, then go to Ustengrav. Transform into a werewolf and run past everyone (making sure to grab the word for Become Ethereal while you’re at it) up to the Whirlwind Sprint puzzle. Complete it and then take out the Frostbite Spiders (lure them onto the fire traps and use the first word of Unrelenting Force to keep them stagger-locked on them until they die). Go get the horn from Delphine and take it to the Greybeards. After that, return to Ustengrav and activate the Tomb of Jurgen Windcaller for a dragon soul and use it to unlock the first word of Fire Breath.
Now that you have an actual damage-dealing shout at your disposal, go to Kynesgrove and help Delphine defeat Sahloknir, using his soul to unlock the first word for Become Ethereal. At this point, you have all the basic necessities for this build. Swap out your weapons and armor for some more appropriate attire (see the roleplay section for that) and start hitting up dragon lairs to get some more souls, using Become Ethereal to avoid their breath attacks and Fire Breath to fight back. You’ll also want to start grabbing some more shouts (Frost Breath and Storm Call are top priorities, as is the word for Fire Breath in Sunderstone Gorge). As far as questlines go, finish up the Main Quest followed by the Companions, curing yourself, Farkas, and Vilkas of Lycanthropy. If you’re still looking for more action then join the Dawnguard and help them take down Harkon. Stopping Miraak is another good choice (selling your soul to Hermaeus Mora is a small price to pay for saving Solstheim, and Dragonborn Flame/Frost/Force are all good rewards from Epistolary Acumen).
Regarding Diplomatic Immunity, you will unfortunately be forced to remove your Amulets of Talos, and since you can’t bring a follower into the Thalmor Embassy, you’ll have to make your way through there without the benefit of 100% fortify shouts. Just smuggle in the best weapon, shield, and armor that you can get your hands on and fight it out.
While many builds use 100% fortify shouts for flashy combos, I tended to use them in a more basic manner since I only had two hotkeys to work with (I played this on console). A quick note on Dismay and Disarm: since these shouts work based on the enemy's level, they will almost always work on enemies scaled to your level.
Fire Breath: Your main damage dealer. With all three words and The Fire Within (the active effect obtained from meditating on Yol with Paarthurnax, it deals 112.5 damage. It also has a bit of a stagger effect to it, a godsend when you can be easily killed in one hit on higher difficulties.
Frost Breath: Pretty similar to the above, so I’ll just note some key differences. Since you can’t meditate on this shout, it won’t deal as much damage as Fire Breath, the exception being flame-resistant enemies. It also deals damage over time (five seconds, to be exact), rather than straight up. Like pretty much all forms of frost damage, it halves enemy movement speed, so keep that in mind.
Become Ethereal: With only base level health and zero defenses, this shout is an absolute necessity for survival, particularly against dragons. I dedicated one of my two hotkeys to it so I could quickly swap to it, the other being used for Fire/Frost Breath (depending on which one I needed at the moment).
Call of Valor: This shout definitely makes finishing the Main Quest worth it. Having someone to take the pressure off of you is incredibly useful. I generally stuck with using Hakon One-Eye, though I’d use Gormlaith Golden-Hilt against dragons, since she could hit them in midair with her bow. Unlike conjuration spells, this shout doesn’t seem to have a finite range, so you can summon your hero as close or far away from you as you want.
Unrelenting Force: Your main crowd control shout, plain and simple. It’s also useful for throwing enemies off high ledges (oldest trick in the book), a task that’s made easier by your ability to chain the shout.
Dragon Aspect: The 20% shout cooldown reduction is entirely useless to you since you have 100% fortify shouts, but this shout still provides a variety of other awesome effects. 100 extra armor rating, 25% fire/frost resistance, and an Ancient Dragonborn that's summoned if your health drops below half are all nice effects, and they last for 300 seconds. Using all three words will also increase the duration of certain shouts by 50% and the magnitude of some others by 25%, an awesome boost for the Greybeard, needless to say. Your power attacks will also do 25% more damage, but you won't be using power attacks anyway.
Storm Call: Move over Dragonrend! This is the shout to use when fighting the winged lizards. The lightning bolts do great damage and can hit the scaly beasts in midair too, though it’s ineffective against the ones that circle around in the air far off in the distance due to its limited range. Considering that the astronomical cooldown (600 seconds for three words? I could make and eat a sandwich in that time.) is negated, you may as well use it in all outdoor battles, assuming there are no friendlies around (it doesn't distinguish between friend and foe).
Slow Time: Two of the words for this shout are quest-locked in places you won’t be going to, meaning you'll have to use the dungeon backdoor glitch to get them. With all three words, this shout will slow time down to 10% of its normal speed for 16 seconds, and with no shout cooldown, you can do this indefinitely.
Bend Will: I'm not too crazy about dragon riding, but the first/second word of this shout lets you enslave large groups of animals/humanoids simultaneously.
For appearance, go with a male Nord and pick the bearded old man preset, changing the hair color to gray. The only things you can wear (aside from your Amulets of Talos) are Boots and a set of Hooded Monk Robes. You can easily get these immediately after completing Unbound. After leaving the cave you escaped out of, follow the path until you hit a sign, then take a left and follow that path until you see a dirt trail going up a small hill. At the end of the trail will be a Shrine of Talos with a dead Thalmor agent and several dead worshippers nearby, one of whom has the robes and boots. You might also find an Amulet of Talos here, making that one less amulet that you have to buy at Radiant Raiment.
Of similar character to a Paladin, the Greybeard uses his power to protect the weak and destroy evil. This provides quite the list of acceptable targets. Undead and Necromancer that corrupt the gift of life, bandits and dragons that terrorize the countryside, these are all enemies that the Greybeard should focus his efforts on. However, you should not use your Voice for war. Avoid picking a side in the Civil War, and negotiate a neutral settlement that favors neither side during Season Unending.
You care little for worldly possessions, so donate your gold to charity whenever you can. You also revere the divines, Kynareth/Kyne in particular, so pray at their shrines whenever you get the chance and do their related quests (Kyne’s Sacred Trials, for example). Also, be sure to read the tablets on the steps to High Hrothgar.
For those of you who play on PC, download the Craftable and Enchanted Greybeard Robes mod. Aside from allowing you to use the Greybeards’ outfit normally (rather than having to equip them through console commands) and craft them at a forge, equipping even just one piece of the outfit enables you to use shouts without cooldown (despite the enchantment text saying it provides only 20% Fortify Shouts). This means you can skip the equipment stacking glitch, skip becoming a werewolf, skip the Companions questline (use console commands to get the word for Fire Breath in Dustman’s Cairn), and get to the meat and potatoes of the build much more quickly.
- Fun fact: As far as gameplay is concerned, the Greybeards are, strictly speaking, not pacifists. Attack them enough and they will fight back with their fists, but mostly the Voice, especially Unrelenting Force. Since they don't have cooldown (as far as I can tell), you'll more likely than not be continually ragdolled around the room.
- If you wish to make your home at High Hrothgar, keep in mind that it respawns every ten days. However, the large chest (where you put Klimmek’s Supplies) and surrounding sacks just outside High Hrothgar never respawn.
- High Hrothgar has the same icon on the map as the military forts, ironically.
- If you liked this, then check out my other builds to see more!