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"Skyrim" Rogue (Thief) Class Build Guide: Perks and Talents

Those ice wraiths are no match for a well honed dagger.

Those ice wraiths are no match for a well honed dagger.

Perks Explained and Core Class Talents

Now you've chosen a race, decided on a birth sign to shoot for, and likely spent a few hours tweaking your character's looks. This Skyrim rogue class guide will focus on perk selection and leveling up. Perk selection is one of the most important components of a successful rogue build.

Because Skyrim (at least on the Xbox 360) does not allow players to change their perk selections once they are made, it is especially important that you have a build planned out for your rogue. Additionally, every time players level up they are given the option of increasing certain attributes. While not as crucial as good perk selection the choice of stat increases is covered here as well.

How Perks Work

First let's talk about how the perk system works. There are 18 different skills, (destruction, archery, pickpocket, etc.) that players can invest points in. Each of these skills contains various perks which increase or augment something about that skill. For example the sneak tree gives a bonus to stealth as well as increasing the damage of attacks made from stealth.

Players earn one point every time they level up. This point can be spent immediately or saved for future use. Since Skyrim imposes a soft level cap of 50, after which it becomes increasingly difficult to level up, most players effectively have 50 perk points to work with*. There are 251 total perks between all the skills and 74 in the rogue section alone! Looking at those numbers it is easy to see why it is important to have your build in mind ahead of time.

*The hard level cap is 80, so it is possible to obtain an additional 30 perks besides what is described here. However the process of reaching level 80 can be extremely tedious. For this reasons this guide will focus on the much more achievable soft cap of 50.


When talking about perk selection it is easiest to do if it is broken down by build. A rogue that is looking to focus on bows will have different choices then a dagger rogue for example. On the other hand there are a number of perks that will be shared by just about every rogue build. We're going to focus on the latter type for now.

Khajiit thief.

Khajiit thief.

Level-Ups and Stat Increases

In previous Elder Scrolls games, each time a player leveled up they would have the option of increasing their stats i.e. strength, endurance, intelligence etc. Skyrim does away with this and only gives players the option of increasing their health, magicka (mana) or stamina when they level up.

Most rogues have little use for magicka and/or spells so the majority of rogue builds can disregard that choice entirely (Mage/rogue hybrids will be discussed later as the exception to this rule). That leaves health and stamina. Each point in health increase the player's health pool by 10, while each point in stamina increases stamina by 10 as well as increasing their carrying capacity by 5 pounds.

Health should be the focus until players hit at least 400 unbuffed health, after which they can begin investing points in stamina as needed. This means that considering each character's starting health of 100, players should choose to increase health until at least level 30. 400 health is by no means a magic number and players may find they need more or less depending on play style.

In general, something in the 400 area will give players plenty of life for the times when they need to fight face to face, such as some dragon battles, while still allowing plenty of room to increase their carry capacity and stamina.

A wood elf rogue stalking its prey.

A wood elf rogue stalking its prey.

Core Rogue Perks

Core rogue perks are archetype defining skills, things that no rogue should overlook. These skills will form the basis of a thief character regardless of the kind of rogue you choose to branch out into later.


Sneak is a rogue's bread and butter, it is practically what defines the class. This is one of the skills that you will use the most and appropriately one which should have a heavy point investment. When you look at the sneak tree you will see that it has left and right "branches" to it. Here is a breakdown of the individual Sneak perks, a suggestion for how many points should be allocated, as well as a grade A-F indicating it's importance.

  1. Stealth-you are 20% harder to detect while sneaking (+5% per rank extra rank) This is the most important skill you will have as a thief. 5/5 A+
  2. Muffled Movement-Noise from armor is reduced 50%. There are many types of boots available that give the same perk. Consider picking up for convenience or for access to other skills. 1/1 B+
  3. Light Foot-you won't trigger traps. Seems a throwaway talent but you'd be surprised how often it will save you. B+ 1/1
  4. Silent Roll/Silence/Shadow Warrior-The top three perks on the left side of the tree are sadly underwhelming. There is certainly no harm in taking them but their impact on creating a supremely powerful rogue is slim. If anything consider taking Silent Roll and Silence only, Shadow Warrior is generally not worth it. 0/3-2/3 C
  5. Backstab/Deadly Aim/Assassin's Blade-The entire right side of the sneak tree is pure gold. With these talents your bow and dagger attacks made from stealth become truly devastating. Every rogue of every stripe needs to invest in all these talents. You will never see such a big reward from anything else! 3/3 A+

Light Armor

As a rogue, leave the cumbersome daedric, ebony and orcish armors to the warriors. Light armor makes less noise, is less restrictive, and perhaps most importantly weighs less meaning more room in your bags for loot! Your mileage will vary with this tree however and the amount of points you invest will depend on your play style. Stealth heavy rogues may find all their foes dead from sneak attacks with no real need to ever take a blow in combat.

Obviously, rogues of this variety have less need of this skill then rogues who routinely find themselves fighting toe to toe. A good rule of thumb for this tree is to only put points into it when you feel you are taking to much damage. This i something of a judgement call but it's better to invest points as you need them rather then dumping points into a skill that won't pay a lot of dividends. Here are my suggestions for specific perks to take:

  1. Agile Defender-Increases the armor value of light armor by 20/40/60/80/100%. This is a great perk because it helps narrow the gap in armor values between light and heavy gear. 5/5 A
  2. Custom Fit-25% armor bonus if wearing all light armor. An additional 25% armor rating for one point? Well worth it. 1/1 A
  3. Unhindered-Light armor weighs nothing when worn and won't slow you down. Not particularly useful on its own but it's a prerequisite for Wind Walker which is pretty good. C(on its own) B+(used to access Wind Walker.
  4. Wind Walker-Stamina regenerates 50% faster when wearing all light armor. A nice perk to have, especially if you find yourself doing a lot of sniping. 1/1 B+
  5. Matching Set/Deft Movement-I would not bother with these perks. Matching set only works if all your gear is from the same set, and rogues tend to mix and match. Deft Movement sounds nice but rogue battles are over so fast you'll likely never make use of that 10% damage avoidance. Spend your points elsewhere.

That's really it as far as "must have" perks for every rogue build are concerned. Sneak and light armor are what makes a rogue a rogue, beyond these skills players are adjusting the rogue archetype to fit their specific play styles. Next we will look at how those adjustments lead to different sub classes.


Bob on January 02, 2013:

Nice, but I can only find parts 2, 3, and 5 in your hub pages. Where is 1 and 4? Why not include forward/backward links in your pages?