The Ranger ghosted through the forest, his soft boots gliding over dead leaves and twigs, leaving them undisturbed. He made his way towards the clearing, where a large camp had been set up. As he drew closer, his keen nose caught a whiff of woodsmoke, and he was forced back to the scene he had encountered a few days earlier: the scorched ruins of a farm, the ashes stained with the blood of cattle and men alike, no life in sight. He had tracked the men responsible for this atrocity to this camp, where their chief proudly paraded among them. He nocked an arrow to his powerful bow, turning his deep anger into razor focus. His mark was nearly 150 meters away, perhaps a near-impossible shot for most archers, but a more than manageable one for someone with his training. As he drew back on the bowstring, he dedicated his arrow to the memory of those who these monsters had slain, and he knew it would strike true.
This build is heavily inspired by my childhood favorite book series, Ranger's Apprentice, and I'm honestly quite surprised at how well it translated into Skyrim. It takes the ever-popular stealth archer build to an extreme, combining speed, precision, and stealth for one very fun playstyle. I hope you all enjoy...
The Imperial Ranger
The Ranger is dedicated to restoring peace and order to Skyrim, regardless of poltical alignment or religion.
This build makes use of a couple of mods which enhance the vanilla experience of Skyrim without changing the game too much. This build can still likely be played with vanilla Skyrim, but it won't be as good.
Ordinator – Overhauls the perk trees, eliminates a lot of what could be considered "filler" perks. For this build, it really spices up Archery, allowing the Ranger to make better use of both long-distance and speedy shots. Since there's a lot of perks being put into Archery, I recommend grabbing one of the Extra Perk Points options if you hate grinding (like me).
Imperious – Makes Skyrim's races more unique and changes racial bonuses and powers without being game-breaking. We're using this mod because it gives the Bosmer some nice tricks, befitting of an experienced forester.
Some kind of cloak mod – My cloaks came with Wet and Cold, but you can use whatever. Definitely not necessary, but it completes the Ranger's aesthetic.
~The Build - Stats, Perks, and Equipment~
Race: Bosmer. The bonuses to Archery and Sneak are pretty nice, but what takes the cake is Imperious's addition of a personal hawk. After standing still for a couple seconds, your hawk will tell you where moving enemies are. This is really handy for sneaking around, without resorting to perking Alteration for Detect Life. Be sure to turn the body slider to a more slim build.
Stats: 1 Magicka / 1 Health / 2 Stamina. Stop adding Magicka once you can comfortably cast Muffle, and stop adding Health once you hit 150 or so. You want to keep the Health pool pretty low. After this, dump everything into Stamina, for Archery.
Standing Stone: Thief, for leveling. After you level a bit, switch to the Shadow Stone. Its ability is a good panic button.
Blessings: Personal preference. I keep forgetting to maintain the darn things anyway, so they aren't crucial to this build.
Shouts: I didn't use any, but feel free to use whatever you think helps. Aura Whisper and Throw Voice might be handy.
Powers: Beast Tongue. This is the power you unlock through Imperious, and allows you to make an animal your companion.
Spells: Muffle. This spell contributes to the Ranger's uncanny silence, and is the only one he uses.
Major Skills: Archery, Sneak
Minor Skills: One-Handed, Speech, Illusion
Weapons: Ebony Bow, Two Ebony Daggers
Apparel: Belted Tunic, Penitus Oculatus Bracers + Boots, Hood + Cloak. If you aren't using a cloak mod, stick with a Novice Hood so you don't have to put as many points into Magicka. For jewelry, I recommend anything with a Fortify Archery or Fortify Sneak enchantment. Until getting the Penitus Oculatus armor (mentioned in the Quests/Roleplay section), use Imperial Light Bracers + Boots.
Let's be honest, all of our builds turn into sneak archers at some point. Why fight it?
Archery: This is the Ranger's primary source of damage. Using the simple bow, he can alternate between deliberate long shots and close-range flurries of arrows. No matter the case, precision and composure are never sacrificed.
Sneak: Next to the bow, this is the Ranger's greatest tool. His lack of armor and Health forces him to stick to the shadows, and control the battlefield through tactical decisions rather than brute strength. He is able to slip between cover and loose arrows from safe, unknown vantage points.
One-Handed: If everything goes according to plan, you won't use this skill. But the Ranger is trained to prepare for the worst, so he never leaves home without his trusty fighting knives. Bite Marks helps to drain that last bit of life out of an enemy before they can counterattack. In a pinch you'll be able to take out an enemy or two at melee range, but don't rely on it.
Illusion: The Ranger's uncanny stealth can be in part attributed to the Muffle spell, a charm he always keeps cast on his feet. Quiet Before the Storm lets you cast and recast it silently, avoiding otherwise fatal attention. If you aren't using shouts, only take 1 out of the 2 levels of this perk.
Speech: Information are the Ranger's stock and trade, and thus he is a skilled interrogator. Persuasion and intimidation are both open means to him, and he is able to use them with frequent success.
~The Ranger's Life – Gameplay and Quests~
By now you'll have noticed the combination of a small health pool and a decided lack of armor rating. This is your incentive to really be a stealth archer. If you get spotted and cornered, you're dead, period. So you'll have to be a lot more sneaky and a lot more tactical than many stealth archer builds require.
Use your hawk to locate moving enemies, and take out isolated sentries first. Take advantage of distance, and make long shots whenever possible. It's safer, does more damage, and looks way cooler, especially if you have killcams enabled.
If you can, do your missions at night to take full advantage of your Sneak perks, and have Muffle always active.
The Ranger truly thrives at medium range, undetected, against a group of enemies within close proximity to one another. Nothing is more satisfying than sending a flurry of precision shots their way from the shadows, absolutely decimating a group in seconds.
Now, it's inevitable that someone is going to catch you off guard, and get within melee range. For these (hopefully) rare occasions, the Ranger packs two razor-sharp fighting knives, dual-wielding them to terrifying extent. With minimal perk investment, the Ranger can shred an adversary within moments... as long as he gets the first hit in. Speed is everything in these encounters, and surviving one will genuinely tire you out.
Twin Fangs: Quick as a snake, the Ranger darts in and out with his two daggers, ending the fight as soon as it begins.
Ravage + Power Attack
The increase in dual-wield speed from Ravage in addition to the potentially doubled damage that comes with dual-wielding allows the Ranger to quickly and efficiently shred an enemy if it gets too close for comfort.
Camouflage: The Ranger suddenly wraps himself in his mottled cloak, blending seamlessly into his surroundings.
Shadow Stone + Sneak
The Shadow Stone's ability lets the Ranger turn invisible, allowing him to relocate or escape his attackers if things get too heated.
Precision Drill: The Ranger's extensive training allows him to loose a hailstorm of precise arrows from the shadows in the span of seconds.
Quick Shot + Hailstorm + Sneak Attack
The Ranger's enemies won't have time to realize what's going on before every one of them is stilled by an arrow. Hailstorm's effect increases your attack speed with each successful hit, and the effect stacks, so the more enemies, the merrier.
Snipe: The Ranger's skill with the bow is matched only by his patience, and the two combine for a devastating shot.
Ambush Predator + Thread the Needle + Long Shot + Sneak Attack
When shooting stationary enemies from far away, staying still for a few seconds will increase your damage against them significantly. Thread the Needle lets you ignore some armor rating, and all of this culminates into some serious damage.
Snap Shot: The Ranger's quick reflexes and hand-eye coordination allow him to fire a single arrow with superhuman speed and accuracy at a moment's notice.
Perfect Aim + Quick Shot + Sneak Attack
If you get caught off guard by a nearby enemy, snap off a quick shot. More likely than not, that'll be enough to put them down, thanks to the bonus damage from Perfect Aim.
"One riot, one Ranger."
Recommended Quests: Civil War Questline (side with Empire), Blood on the Ice, The Forsworn Conspiracy, Destroy the Dark Brotherhood, Composure, Speed, and Precision
In his quest to restore peace to Skyrim, the Ranger will join the Legion, and play a critical role in quelling the Stormcloak rebellion. That being said, his thirst for justice extends beyond picking sides. For example, he will rid Windhelm of the Butcher, despite it being the capital of his enemies. He is also suspicious of the Thalmor, and will avoid doing anything to help them.
The Ranger is a problem solver, likely one of Tamriel's best. He will assist the Jarls of each Hold however he can, building up useful political relationships in the process. He will also investigate and resolve anything suspicious or harmful to the common folk. Focus especially on Riften, to deal with its skooma dealers, and Markarth, to deal with the Forsworn. Take as many bounties on bandits and Forsworn as you can, to protect the people of Skyrim. While he is a problem solver, the Ranger won't take petty requests from townspeople, especially if they're out of his way. He has more important things to do.
After hearing whispers of sinister plots against the Emperor, the Ranger will investigate and ultimately destroy the Dark Brotherhood. During this time, he will also discover a rogue Penitus Oculatus agent, and dispatch him accordingly. This is also where the Ranger acquires his signature Penitus Oculatus armor, whose darker color better fits his stealthy aesthetic. Just kill one of the Penitus Oculatus Agents at the Outpost when nobody's looking and take the armor.
Once your Archery skill hits 94, travel to Angi's camp for the unmarked quest Composure, Speed, and Precision. The Ranger has a few more tricks to learn, after all. Completing the quest will give 6 free Archery levels and can be considered as the Ranger's final mastery of archery.
The Ranger maintains an aloof personality, and will avoid "making friends." This is the product of both his job and his somewhat antisocial tendencies. The saying "one riot, one Ranger" should be taken to heart: the Ranger will not have (or need) any companions except for his horse (and maybe a dog), preferring to work alone and in the shadows.
Additionally, the Ranger prefers to spend his time outdoors, in the forests of Skyrim, where he feels most comfortable. Stay out of cities when you don't have to be in them. This preference factors into the chosen home of the Ranger...
-The Cabin in the Trees-
No player home better fits as the base of operations for the Ranger than Lakeview Manor. Falkreath Hold is easily one of my favorites, and its player home is, too. Since the Ranger lives modestly, you'll only want to take the one-room option, fully furnished. Attach a stables for your horse and a garden, and you're set.
There's something to be said about spending most of your time in Skyrim's wilderness, especially if you haven't done it before. At the risk of sounding cheesy, it's actually pretty relaxing.
I hope that this was a refreshing and possibly more balanced take on the stealth archer. As always I had a lot of fun making this build, and if you decide to give it a try I hope you have fun, too. Please give me any feedback you may have, as I'm always looking to improve. Happy building!
Credit to Curse for rescuing me with his amazing perkspread.