What have I done?
Paces away, the Spriggan lies still, hacked apart by a rusty old blade. Its mutilated carapace oozes its life-sap onto the weeping ground beneath.
I had to! I-I tried to calm it, use the rites I had learned as a child, but it kept attacking!
The forest is still, empty, dark. A dismayed breeze sighs between drooping branches.
I just wanted a closer look... to learn about these creatures...
Sorrow sets in, plucking at heartstrings and tugging at grief. The loss is maddening for the pious Argonian...
The deathly silence of the forest is broken as the Hist speaks. The Argonian listens eagerly, thirsting for redemption.
Hands trembling, guided by the Hist's wisdom, the Argonian holds the sword pointed inwards, the blade still sticky with sap. Past the scales, past the bone. The Hist ensures it reaches the heart. Then the taproot, taken from what was once the guardian. Wood replaces flesh as the taproot takes the heart's place. The Argonian falls, surrenders to the will of the Hist. Blood mixes with sap in perfect, vile harmony...
The creature rises, and the Argonian is no more.
In case it's not obvious, I'm taking this contest's theme of "returning to your roots" quite literally--get it, because trees? And nobody knows trees better than Spriggans, the mysterious woodland spirits that can turn a nice nature walk into a bee-filled nightmare in the blink of an eye. Not much is known about them, so I took this opportunity to explore their somewhat limited lore, and really challenge what a Vanilla Skyrim playthrough can be. For those of you who enjoy playing the nature-loving druid, be ready to take that to the extreme as you become...
Difficulty: While this build works on a variety of difficulties, the one you choose will ultimately depend on your area of focus within the build. For those focusing more on the roleplaying and immersive experience, I recommend a lower difficulty. For the perhaps more intense, who want to push the build's combat to the limit and become a true force of nature, I recommend a higher difficulty.
Race: Argonian. Specifically, the Lurcher was a scholar of the Gee-Rusleel tribe, or the Miredancers. This tribe is defined by their piety and reverence towards the Hist, the sentient race of spore trees found in Black Marsh. It is this deep connection to the Hist that guides the rest of the build.
Your character's sex is mainly an aesthetic choice. Lurchers in TES lore are described as appearing to be more masculine variants of Spriggans, which appear to be feminine, so pick whatever feels right for you. When customizing the character, give them dark brown scales and vibrant green markings.
Stats: 2 Magicka / 1 Health / 0 Stamina. A high Magicka pool is crucial to casting various spells to keep you in (or out of) the fight. Stop perking Health at 200 and put the rest into Magicka.
Standing Stone: Mage. The early stages of the game will see a magical development, hastened by the Mage Stone. Later on, it won't fit the build's roleplay to choose a different stone, so we'll stick with it.
Blessings: None. There's no reason for a woodland spirit to pray at a shrine, so we won't.
Spells: Invisibility, Calm, Muffle, Fast Healing, Poison Rune
Shouts: Animal Allegiance
Major Skills: Illusion, Restoration
Minor Skills: Sneak, Light Armor*
*May or may not be perked
Similarly to my last contest entry, this build will be split up--by necessity--into two acts. Due to the limitations of Vanilla progression, we can't quite get into the build's definining stage right out the gate. Instead, we need a steady introduction into and progression through the world, where we develop our skills, take our perks, and learn our spells.
~Act I - The Scholar~
The Argonian arrives in Skyrim on a pilgrimage of sorts, sent by their tribe to visit and study a possible Hist tree. In the aftermath of Helgen, the scholar discovers their innate ability to use the Thu'um as well as the College of Winterhold, both of which demand further investigation.
-Weapons and Equipment-
Staff of Jyrik Gauldurson. Staves are criminally underrated in general, and for this portion of the build they will be your main means of ranged damage. Use any other staves you like in addition to this heavy-hitting artifact.
Picked up this relic in Saarthal. Powerful old staff. It's gotten me out of trouble quite a few times.
Mage's Robes. These can be any robes you want, preferably with beneficial effects towards Restoration or Illusion. If the robes variant you wear doesn't have a hood, combine it with one that grants you Magicka, like the Novice/Apprentice Hood.
Leveled Light Bracers/Boots. This is mainly for a bit of extra protection starting out. Enchantments are optional and up to your preference.
Enchanted Jewelry. A necklace and ring can go a long way towards making your spells more effective. I personally took the Gauldur Amulet Fragment for the extra 30 Magicka, and a random enchanted ring. Use whatever you'd like.
All of the necessary perks for this build will be taken fairly early on, eliminating the need to worry about leveling and perking for the rest of the build.
Restoration: Dusty old robes aren't much of a match against a draugr's axe or a dungeon's spike trap. Taking damage is inevitable, and the Restoration tree will help you mitigate it in times of need. This skill will see much more action in Act II, where it will be an integral part of your combat in the form of quick healing and poison spells.
Illusion: This skill has twofold use. On the one hand, you'll be using spells like Muffle and Invisibility to aid you in sneaking through crypts (later on, prowling through the forest); on the other hand, you'll use Calm spells to pacify your enemies (later on, to "charm" the creatures of the wilds).
Sneak: This is perhaps the most important skill for Act I. After all, why bother disturbing ancient bones when you can slip past them silently? Avoiding combat is crucial for Act I, and the Sneak skill will give you a massive advantage initiating it in Act II.
For the time being, combat is abhorrent to our pacifistic scholar. You will take great pains to avoid it, often by means of stealth and trickery. Thankfully, you are well-equipped to do so. The combination of very light apparel (mostly clothing), the Muffle spell, and a trained Sneak skill will make you just as ghostly as the inhabitants of the crypts you sneak through. Later, as you learn Invisibility, you will become nought but a breeze.
In the event of detection, you have several options:
- If the enemy is a human or animal, cast Calm. Your perks, combined with dual casting, should almost always be enough to end the fight peacefully.
- Run away. Sure, it sounds cowardly, but you aren't really a fighter. If there's open space and a clear escape route, there's no shame in casting Invisibility and making a break for it. Alternatively, if you're stuck in a dungeon, you could try to lure your enemies into one of the traps lining the dungeon walls. Work smart, not hard.
- Stand your ground. When push comes to shove, you have a few weapons at your disposal. Your collection of staves will have various utility, and your sword will provide adequate close-quarters defense. Damage taken will be mitigated by the generous use of Restoration spells.
- The Way of the Voice. The scholar will explore their newfound gift, intending to follow the Greybeards' appealing philosophy of peace.
- The College Questline. The College of Winterhold will provide a variety of scholarly quests, as well as access to the Invisibility spell. Progress as far as you'd like.
The purpose of these quests is to acquire the magical knowledge you'll need for the build to achieve its full effect. The College will provide you with nearly all of the spells you'll be using, and exploring your Thu'um will let you acquire the Animal Allegiance Shout. You only need one Word of Power for this build; I learned mine in Angarvunde. Additionally, you'll need to take a ship to Solstheim to visit Tel Mithryn, where you'll acquire the Poison Rune spell. Ever the seeker of knowledge, the scholar will learn about the destructive side of Restoration in order to better grasp the school as a whole.
Beyond these recommended quests, feel free to take any other quests that take your fancy, within the confines of the character's roleplay, of course. Whether for leveling or immersion, do what you feel like, but remember: the taller you build your character up, the harder the fall will be.
I mentioned earlier that the scholar's original purpose in journeying to Skyrim was to investigate a potential Hist tree. What tree could this possibly be? Why, none other than...
The Sleeping Tree
There are many legends surrounding the mysterious tree in the Whiterun plains. Some say that a piece of rock was blasted from Red Mountain during the Red Year and landed in Skyrim, and the Tree grew from the resulting crater. Others say that it grew from a spore which fell from a "floating island," referring to Umbriel, in which case the Tree is one of the Hist of Umbriel.
Seeking to determine the truth, the scholar will visit the giant-inhabited camp to study this mysterious tree. Be sure to check out this interesting location at least once in your playthrough. Fighting the giants and mammoths there is neither necessary nor recommended.
The roleplay for this section is fairly straightforward: you're a nature-loving scholar and pacifist. Avoid violence when you can, and never harm nature unless you absolutely have to. Cast your Calm spells or use your Animal Allegiance Shout on predators you encounter in your travels rather than taking their lives, and don't go gathering ingredients willy-nilly.
Naturally the scholar will have a predisposition towards all things, well, scholarly. Choose dialogue options that lead to additional information, and try to appear as intelligent as possible in your conversations. If you really want to go the extra mile, keep some books in your inventory to entertain you on the road.
The shift into the main portion of the build is catalyzed by a rather dramatic event, which we'll call...
Lurchers in TES lore are described as the corrupted forms of Spriggans, often created through dark magic in mysterious rituals. The tortured spirit of the Spriggan is trapped inside the creature until it is slain. Lurchers can also be found naturally, in swamps, and are often used as guardians. They are often associated with the Hist, and are able to be calmed by Argonian rituals.
So if Lurchers contain the spirit, or essence of a Spriggan, then where can this essence be found? The answer is in the roots--the taproot to be exact. Even resembling a heart, the taproot is the source of all of the Spriggan's magical energies.
There is much speculation about exactly what would happen if someone replaced their heart with a taproot, similar to the processes involving Briarhearts and Heartstones. While there is no answer given explicitly in the lore, our character's connection to the Hist and nature coupled with a bit of luck makes it more than possible that they could survive.
In our character's case, doing this while under the Hist's trance will have... interesting consequences, to say the least. Don't tell me you thought they'd turn out just fine? No such luck. The ritual will leave our scholar permanently transformed, both physically and mentally. You will become a Spriggan, only darker, more twisted, and truly reflective of the build's namesake.
Playing the ritual out ingame is fairly simple. During your travels you will eventually encounter a Spriggan (my encounter was in Evergreen Grove). Unable to calm it, you will be forced to slay it. Driven mad with grief, you will remove its taproot, and consume it. Once the taproot is a part of you, your new life begins as the Lurcher.
~Act II - The Woodland Spirit~
What was once an aspiring scholar is now a creature of the woods. All responsibility, all humanity has been forgotten and discarded in the face of the far nobler goal of protecting Skyrim's precious wilds. This is where the real fun begins.
-Weapons and Equipment-
Claws. Drop your Imperial Sword once the ritual is complete. Argonians deal additional damage because of their beast status, making your fists an adequate melee choice.
The sword is thrown aside, its blade sullied forever. The primal fury of the claws will take its place.
The creature wears the pelts of animals killed by long-dead hunters to aid it in killing those poachers who still taint the forest with their presence. In this way, the animals enact their vengeance.
Forsworn Headdress. This completes the Lurcher's terrifying aesthetic.
The Forsworn will know fear when they see the headdress of one of their own rise from the undergrowth.
After equipping just these things, drop everything else in your inventory*; you won't need it anymore. This includes your gold, gems, staves, and any miscellaneous gear not mentioned above. Don't worry if you can't drop Quest Items, but you won't use them from here on out.
*Save any lockpicks in your inventory; you may need them for an upcoming event.
The ultimate goal of this build is to replicate the experience of a Spriggan, from combat to roleplay. All of the skills and perks learned in Act I will now smoothly blend into new uses to make this possible without skipping a beat.
In a somewhat-meta twist of fate, I did some of my own scholarly research into the ingame behavior of Spriggans to better imitate their combat. If you find yourself interested in giving this build a go, I recommend you do the same for the most immersive gameplay.
Fights should almost always start with a surprise attack. Spriggans are often found blending into their surroundings, easily mistaken for tree trunks or other foliage. You'll usually only spot them when they ambush you. Thus, make frequent use of your Invisibility/Muffle spells and Sneak skill to silently prowl through the forest towards your quarry.
To open up the fight, break your Invisibility by casting a Poison Rune or two at your prey's feet. Spriggans often use their bee swarms to poison their foes, and the Poison Rune is the next best thing. The poison damage will stack and ignore your opponent's armor, which makes the spell a devastating supplement to your claws.
The rest of the fight will follow a particular rhythm. Use your claws to quickly land hits on your opponent while dodging their strikes as best you can, and launch power attacks whenever they are vulnerable. Staying mobile is important to maintaining control of the fight as well as managing your Health.
In between claw strikes and dodges, keep an eye on your Magicka pool. When you have regenerated enough Magicka, cast another Poison Rune to stack poison damage and further weaken your opponent.
Alternatively, if you find yourself running low on Health, move back and cast your healing spells. Thanks to the Respite perk, you will have the added benefit of restoring your Stamina as well, allowing you to get back into the fight with a heavy-hitting power attack.
The icing on the sweetroll is the use of your Animal Allegiance Shout. Spriggans are well-known for their ability to charm the animals of the forest and call them to their aid in combat, and Animal Allegiance will let you do just that. Your claws will certainly feel much stronger when they're backed up by those of a sabre cat or bear.
Combat should have a distinctly primal feel to it. If you catch yourself resorting to any fancy combat tricks or finesse, simplify, simplify. This is probably one of the only builds you'll play that admonishes you for adopting a fighting style more intelligent than a deranged monster's, but that's basically what you are now, so fight like it.
Note: Depending on the difficulty, you may find it wise to put some perks into Light Armor at this stage. If you do, focus solely on the perks that give you raw AR, nothing fancy.
Sure, fighting like a Spriggan is nice, but it's what you do outside of combat that really ties the build together into an immersive and fresh experience.
Your time in Skyrim will henceforth be spent almost exclusively in nature, prowling through forests and groves in search of any who would disturb your serene home. Don't step foot in any city or initiate any dialogue for the rest of this playthrough. This is your opportunity to really explore Skyrim's wilds, to appreciate areas you would normally briefly pass through on your way to bigger things. Even without mods, Skyrim's nature is a beautiful place to be (though if you want to cheat a little, a few graphics mods will make you cry).
Your Calm spells will now be used to charm any animals you encounter into not fleeing or attacking, which will give a whole new atmosphere to the wilds. You'll truly start to feel like another creature of the forest, at home amongst the deer and bear alike.
But you won't always encounter fellow creatures in the forest: Occasionally you'll find a stray wanderer, a farmer, a refugee, or a hunter. These men and mer are intruders on your sacred grounds, putrid defilers of nature, and are to be cut down without mercy.
Depending on how and where you kill intruders, you may find that you develop a sizeable bounty. It's a nice touch to RP this as the Jarls placing bounties on your head as you gain infamy as a woodland spirit.
There is one more lore detail about Spriggans that will drive much of your action from here on out, and it delves into another fascinating, yet overlooked subject:
Spriggans and the Forsworn are undeniably connected in Skyrim. Ever wonder what those taproots are doing hanging in Forsworn camps?
I mentioned earlier that the taproot is the source of a Spriggan's energy. As such, Spriggans are drawn to them. Knowing this, Hagravens hang them in Forsworn camps to lure the creatures for their vile rituals, and in keeping with this build's roleplay, you too will be invariably drawn to Forsworn camps.
Your main targets in the camps will be the Hagravens themselves. Deep down, you know what horrors they have committed against your Spriggan brethren, and you will spare no savagery in ending them.
This primal Forsworn vendetta will also give additional meaning to wearing the Forsworn Headdress. Everyone will fear the Lurcher's terrifying visage, but the Forsworn will know true horror when they see the headdress of one of their own appear to slaughter them.
While the rest of the build is very freeform and has no recommended quests, the Lurcher will be drawn towards various locations due to their natural significance, on a sort of pilgrimage. These sanctuaries and groves are particularly beautiful, and practically radiate natural energy. To get started, here are a few amazing locations you should check out:
- Ancestor Glade. Fans of the Dawnguard DLC may remember this stunning location full of plant life and curious moth swarms. Visiting this beautiful sanctuary while not preoccupied by the impending vampire threat gives it a whole new light (especially without Serana's commentary).
- Evergreen Grove. This ruined, flooded Nordic barrow is now a pond, fed by a stream. It represents nature's triumph over the artificial constructions of the Nords, a sign that nature will prevail above all else.
- Bloated Man's Grotto. Hircine's disciples may recognize this as the final setting of the quest Ill Met by Moonlight. The scene is stunning when you aren't being threatened by a werewolf.
- Shadowgreen Cavern. This is definitely one of the prettier caves of Skyrim, and worth a tour if you aren't sure what else to do.
You will likely find that other Spriggans already guard these sacred areas, and will initially try to attack you. Depending on where you want to take this build's roleplay, you have two options:
- First, you could use your Calm spells if they're strong enough. Spriggans have their own language, and scholars have been able to calm them by speaking it. You could RP this as the Lurcher communicating their intentions and establishing peace. Perhaps the Lurcher's twisted aura simply sent them a false alarm, and now all is well.
- Secondly, and more darkly, the Lurcher could see these Spriggans as unworthy of guarding these places, and kill them. This leans more towards the monstruous side of the build, and could perhaps indicate a worsening condition following the ritual. Ultimately the choice is yours on how to react, and it will largely be based on your previous actions and choices.
In addition to the aforementioned locations, there is one more with special significance that the Lurcher will be drawn to:
This is a tragically-overlooked location, being the source of no quests save a small chance for radiant ones. But inside lies a secret practically made for this build.
The cave initally seems fairly standard, but near the end you will encounter a truly unique sight: a Spriggan trapped in a rusty old cage. But this is no ordinary Spriggan--it is a non-hostile one. In fact, if you free it using either the lockpicks mentioned earlier (there are some in the cave itself as well) or console commands, it will assist you in killing the witches and Hagraven up ahead. After the battle, the Spriggan will exit the cave and run off.
If you follow the Spriggan on its journey (it still won't attack you), it will lead you to the Eldergleam Sanctuary, easily one of the most beautiful places in Skyrim. It's a fitting end for an amazing adventure, made all the more special by the build's roleplay. After all, what's more beautiful than a true Spriggan team-up over the blood of a nature-hating Hagraven?
Feel free to visit the Eldergleam Sanctuary whenever you want. In fact, I heartily recommend it. You never know what adventurer might waltz in with some ancient dagger, just looking for trouble.
I hope you all found this build to be an interesting and fresh way to play Skyrim. As always I had a blast playing it, and I really did get a deeper appreciation of Skyrim's outdoors. Good luck on this contest to all of my fellow contestants, and here's to plenty more amazing contests! Happy building!
Credit to Ponty for suggesting the nature-site pilgramages.