Lee has played "Skyrim" for several years now and enjoys writing about it and her various Dovahkiin.
Thanks to magical Mr. Mistoffelees from Cats, I've had an obsession with playing a khajiit mage for a few years now. Originally, I went traditional and all my mages were either elves or Bretons. Eventually, however, I realized that I enjoyed playing a mage assassin way too much to be anything but a khajiit.
Khajiit have a huge amount of starting Sneak and can see in the dark. They are perfect for someone who plans on conjuring bound bows and quietly shooting people from the shadows. This is honestly one of my favorite builds, but it is not the build we will focus on in this guide.
This guide will mainly focus on playing as a pure mage (no weapons) who relies mostly on Conjuration and Destruction when in battle.
Table of Contents:
- Essential Beginner Spells
- Quests and Items
- Ideal Mods
Let me start out by saying this: put all your points into magic.
Stamina is for warriors to do power moves and/or characters like thieves who need to carry a lot of loot. You don't need stamina because you are a pure mage who doesn't wield weapons unless they are bound or—in emergencies—the odd dagger. And you certainly don't carry your own loot. That's what mercenaries, wives, and husbands are for.
There is also no reason whatsoever to put any points into health. You are a conjurer. You don't wear armor because you are usually standing behind a mob of powerful demons who keep enemies from reaching you in the first place.
It's hard in the beginning when you are summoning weak demons and your follower sucks, but keep at it. Put all your points into magic, and you will be a killing machine. You will rarely run out of juice, never need potions, and will probably not even need those enchantments on your robes.
Essential Beginner Spells
The spells you need to conjure your demon friends are scattered across Skyrim. They are mostly sold by court wizards but can be bought from some merchants as well.
I like to play mages that use both Destruction and Conjuration. This makes sense largely in the beginning when your summoned pals aren't going to be strong enough to fend off entire mobs by their onesy.
So when I first escape Helgen, the first thing I do is head to Riverwood—likely ignoring Hadvar/Ralof—and go directly to the Riverwood Trader. Here, you can sell off all the loot you (hopefully) snatched off the corpses in Helgen in exchange for new spells.
This spell is usually for sell at the Riverwood Trader. Buy it. Unless you're roleplaying a character who is against necromancy, there's no reason not to abuse the hell out of this.
While at early levels, you can kill weak enemies, then resurrect them to fight for you, and every time you do, you earn points toward Conjuration. You can do this with wolves, bandits, bunny rabbits, draugr. The more you do it, the faster you level up. And this spell is very cheap, so it's not hard to get early on.
Any Bound Weapon Spell
Any bound weapon spell, such as Bound Sword or Bound Bow will do the same thing as Raise Zombie: every time you conjure a weapon, you gain points. The only setback is that the weapons take too long to appear because of the animation.
This can be disastrous if you're playing a pure mage (you are, aren't you?) and are by yourself with enemies closing in. Always best to use this spell when you've already conjured a creature to fight for you or when you have a tank follower, both of whom would be distracting enemies away from you.
Conjure Flame Atronach
Eventually, when you hit Apprentice level, you will want to start conjuring a demon friend instead of bothering with corpses—unless you're playing a necromancer, in which case, corpse away!
After this, as you level up, other spells will become available, such as the Frost Atronach (Adept), then the Storm Atronach (Expert).
These spells can be found at any court wizard based on your level, but it's easiest to buy them from the College of Winterhold. In fact, you get so many magical rewards just from starting the quest—free magic rings and circlets and robes and a staff from the first dungeon, as well as access to many magical shops—I would advise at least starting the college quest, even if you don't intend on ever finishing the storyline. It's seriously worth having access to the college when you're playing a pure mage.
When writing these beginner guides, I normally make a list of followers that are useful for a build, but there are really only two that I would recommend for a mage character.
Because this guide is for a pure mage, you are going to need a tanky follower who can take a lot of hits and keep enemies distracted from you. This is ideal in the beginning when you are still summoning weak creatures that need help defeating mobs, while keeping angry bandits away from your frail mage body.
In the past, I used to use Stenvar from Windhelm as a tank for my mages and archers, but I eventually learned that Stenvar is actually really cranky and hates friendly fire. Because you're a mage, you are going to be hitting your followers a lot. It just can't be helped. Especially if you love using runes like me. And I love using runes.
Stenvar, in my experience, will actually turn on you and try to kill you. Which is a shame because he makes such a great tank.
If you're going to follow the main quest, I might also recommend Lydia as a starter tank—except that she dies very easily, and—annoyingly enough—while carrying your burdens.
So who would I suggest?
To start, I would suggest swooping by Whiterun and hiring Jenassa.
As I've mentioned on other guides, Jenassa is a pretty cool follower to have when you're trying to be sneaky. She never sets off traps and never gets you caught while sneaking. On top of that, she doesn't seem to mind if you zap her with the occasional lightning bolt or shoot her with the odd arrow. She complains in shock but doesn't actually attack you like Stenvar.
She is also a really great fighter. There's nothing so cool as watching Jenassa running forward with two blades out like a badass. And on top of that, she is brave. Some followers (coughTorvarcough) are set to flee from battles that get too hard, but Jenassa tends to stick it out. Tends.
The downside to Jenassa is that she can die. I accidentally killed her on my most recent mage character, sadly reloaded the game, and then dismissed her back to Whiterun.
If only she were essential, I'd keep her forever. But because I try to keep the number of mods I use to a bare minimum, that means I use Jenassa sparingly to keep her alive.
Mjoll can be found in Riften and can be recruited at level 14 after retrieving her sword, Grimsever.
Over the years, I've come to the conclusion that Mjoll is the best tank for a mage (or combat archer) in the game.
Mjoll is a really great fighter, has an actual backstory, makes actual commentary about the different towns you go to and—probably most important of all—she can't die.
Mjoll is essential, so she can't get killed and wind up lying there facedown with all your stuff on her corpse. Even better, you can marry her and have a walking shop following you around.
You can sell stuff to her shop or have her carry it, and she's not lying when she says she can carry a "good bit of gear."
This is important for a mage character, who needs money but doesn't have the stamina to carry a lot of loot. Don't worry. Mjoll has got the stamina for both of you!
Quests and Items
Here is a list of quests and items that will make playing a mage a lot easier—and more fun!
As I mentioned on another article, this quest basically tells us how and why the dwemer disappeared: they bound themselves to Numidium in eternal servitude and thus "disappeared."
Arniel Gane does the same thing when he accidentally binds himself to the Dragonborn, who is a divine being.
Finishing the quest turns Arniel into a powerful shade that can be summoned at anytime to fight for the Dovahkiin.
Pretty satisfying after the dismissive way Arniel treats you during the first college quest in Saarthal. I sound petty, but I've always enjoyed summoning Arniel's sorry ass and making him fight for me.
Under Saarthal/Forbidden Legend
I find the Saarthal quest worth doing because I actually like collecting all the magic rings and having the Staff of Jyrik. It's a nice staff to have when you are low level and can run out juice in the middle of a battle.
Getting the amulet of Saarthal is also a part of the Forbidden Legend quest, a neat little quest where you collect three amulets from three different tombs. You then reforge them into The Amulet of Gauldur, an amulet worth having as it grants 30+ health, stamina, and magic.
This is the quest from Dawnstar where you either destroy or keep Vaermina's staff. I like keeping the staff. People say that the Skull of Vaermina is weak, but it can actually be pretty fun once it's charged up. It's an especially cool staff to have if you are playing a vampire or a werewolf or some other kind of dark being that would enjoy sneakily collecting people's nightmares like a creep.
The Mind of Madness
Started in Solitude (or by meeting that crazy woman on the road), this quest is worth doing to get the Wabbajack.
I mean, what mage wouldn't want this wacky staff? Not only can you turn bandits into bunnies, but you can level up your followers too! This is important for a mage, who needs to keep their tank powerful.
Pieces of the Past
This is the quest to get Mehrunes' Razor, one of the best daggers in the game. The only weapon a pure mage should be using is a dagger. Why not have the best dagger there is?
The Only Cure
This is the quest to get Spellbreaker, a daedric shield that—as the name implies—protects you from spells. Its infinitely better than any ward spell. The downside is having to carry it. It's a weapon that's probably best for someone playing a sword and shield type character, but it wouldn't hurt to use it as a mage.
Also, it just looks really cool.
No One Escapes Cidhna Mine
This is a quest you should do only if you're playing a barbarian type mage. I have played some wild witches in the past, so this quest has suited me very well.
If you side with Madanach, he will give you a powerful set of enchanted Forsworn armor. It's great for someone roleplaying a wild witch of the woods or something.
Blood on the Ice
If you're playing a conjurer who is mostly a necromancer, I would recommend heading to Windhelm and starting this quest, as you can get a nice necromancy amulet out of it. With a mod installed, the amulet can become pretty useful.
The College of Winterhold Storyline
This one is a given. You can gain so much experience and so many neat items just from doing the first quest, and it's worthwhile to become archmage, if not to have access to all that stuff up in Aren's room.
Not only do you get ol' dude's robes, you also get all his alchemy ingredients and access to his garden. This is great for characters who are into alchemy (like me).
Last but not least, here are some mods I use to make playing a pure mage in Skyrim actually rewarding and enjoyable (versus the unfortunate vanilla experience):
Mage BackPack by TumbaJamba
I've been using this mod for years. It's a pretty neat looking backpack that allows a frail, stamina-lacking mage to carry an extra bit of gear early on in the game. I love using it because my mages are usually adventurers and scholars, and the backpack—with its scrolls and vials—makes them look the part.
I love this mod. Not only does it add lore-friendly, enchantable glasses to the game, but it also gives a few NPCs glasses, making them look pretty cool and bringing a little more character to Skyrim.
Your mage character will look like a real scholar, and what's more, the glasses can be enchanted to give you more magic, more stealth, more destruction, whatever you want!
Path of Sorcery
This mod is a magic-must-have.
Given my love for playing mages—and given how much the vanilla system sucks—I've tried a couple magic overhaul mods over the years, and this is the one I always come back to.
It really makes being a mage actually fun and rewarding, especially if you're playing a conjurer. Quiet Casting is put on the correct f****** skill tree, so that you can silently cast runes under enemies' feet without wasting points on another entirely unrelated skill tree.
Also, collecting bones to make hideous abominations that then follow you around and carry your stuff is pretty fun and makes you feel like a real necromancer. Something like this should have been in the game.
Hedge Mage Armor
This is probably my favorite mage armor ever. (Sorry, guys. It's only for women.)
There are several reasons to like it.
First of all, it's not cheaty. When you first get it in the game, you have to enchant the clothes yourself, so it feels like you worked for the armor and made it yourself.
Second, it's not skimpy. Look up "mage robes" on Nexus and you will be inundated with skimpy outfits that will turn your character into a pole dancer. I don't want porn. I want a cool looking adventurer character, dammit. This armor allows me to play a female character who isn't wearing something demeaning.
Also, it just looks cool. It doesn't break the lore whatsoever, while giving my character a unique appearance.
Thirdly, the hood has holes for a khajiit's ears. ^^
That's it. These are the basics of conjuring. Now go load the game, have fun, and remember—leave the chickens alone!
© 2018 Lee