Skip to main content

Skyrim Rogue (Thief) Class Build Guide: Perk Selection

I'm an upstate New York native who loves Skyrim! I am here to share my knowledge and experience with other fans.

By this point you're now well on your way to building the perfect rogue. In previous additions of this guide we have addressed things like leveling up, race selection, birth signs, and we have started talking about perks. In part to of this rogue class build guide we discussed the Sneak and Light Armor trees, including my suggestions for perks to take and avoid along with rationales for each.

In this installment we will look at the One Handed, Archery, Lockpicking, Speech, Alchemy, Enchanting, Smithing and Illusion skill trees. Why only those trees? As this is a rogue (thief) class guide I tried to focus only on those skills that are typically chosen by players wishing to build a standard rogue/assassin/thief. If there is a perk that you think would benefit this style of play that I have not included in this guide please vote in the poll and I will make updates as needed!

One Handed

The type of rogue build espoused by this rogue build guide is one that focuses on stealth and killing your opponents before they can hit you back. Even with no points in this tree, rogues will find that very, few monsters live long enough beyond the initial backstab to warrant any points in this tree. For those rogue who insist on buffing their melee damage however here is the best route:

  • Armsman-1 handed weapons do 20/40/60/80/100% more damage. Self explanatory 5/5 A+
  • Fighting Stance-1 handed power attacks cost 20% less stamina. Lower cost means more attacks. 1/1 A
  • Dual Flurry-dual wielding attacks are 20/35% faster. Your strikes already hit harder, not they hit faster too. 2/2 A+
  • Dual Savargery-dual wielding power attacks do 50% more damage. Self explanatory 1/1 A+
  • Hack and Slash/Bonebreaker-These two are the axe and mace specialties respectively. Why not swords? Because frankly the perk is weak. At full rank you only have a 20% increased chance to score a critical hit. As a rogue the vast majority of your fights will be over in less that two or three hits. Basically you will never actually see the increase in critical strike chance because your fights won't last long enough. Both axe and mace talents however are more passive effects which will be in play regardless.


I will admit that I have a bias towards ranged rogue builds. Simply put they are more versatile, safer, and generally more effective than dagger based builds (no offense dagger rogues!) Here's how to get the most mileage from your bow:

  • Overdraw-bows do 20/40/60/80/100% more damage. Self explanatory. 5/5 A+
  • Critical Shot-bows have an extra 10/15/20% chance of critical strikes. Despite my earlier rant against the mathematics of crits in relation to daggers, this is actually a good talent. A sneak attack shot that crits will decimate even a dragon's health. 3/3 A
  • Eagle Eye-gives you the ability to zoom in. Increases your kill radius significantly. 1/1 A+
  • Steady Hand-zooming in slows time by 25/50%. Makes long shots and moving targets much easier to hit. Even helps in other situations too. 2/2 A+
  • Power Shot-arrows stagger almost all enemies 50% of the time. Not a bad talent on its own but it leads to something good. Well worth a point. 1/1 B+
  • Quick Shot-can draw a bow 30% faster. Don't let the low number fool you. This talent is like night and day once you have it. Shooting faster is always a good thing. 1/1 A


Much like love, alchemy is a fickle mistress. You have to balance the potential of an exponential increase in power with both the pain of carrying dozens of potions, as well as the cost/tedium of leveling alchemy. By choosing the proper talents and making fortify archery (or 1 handed) potions it is possible to literally double your damage output for a short time. To me it just was not worth it because everything died so fast normally. However, if you want to show off the biggest numbers or just really like overkill here are the only perks worth taking.

  • Alchemist-created poisons and potions are 20/40/60/80/100% more powerful. Pretty self explanatory here, everything you make is stronger enough said. 5/5 A+
  • Physician-Any health/mana/stamina potions you make are 25% stronger. You probably won't need this perk on its own but you will need it to get to benefactor which is a must. 1/1 A for necessity.
  • Benefactor-Potions you mix that have beneficial effects are 25% stronger. Again it's all about the numbers and compounding. With these perks you gain boost your bow (or dagger) damage by 125%. That's enough to fell the toughest dragons in no time. 1/1 A+


Enchanting falls into almost the same category as alchemy. You could play the entire game just fine without either and run into very few problems. The difference however is that while alchemy and it's potions tend to be overkill, enchantments help level the playing field against some of the game's tougher bosses. Plus enchanting is much easier to level up and the benefits are constant. Here's the perks to take to get the most from this tree.

  • Enchanter-New enchants are 20/40/60/80/100% stronger. You will notice a significant difference in your enchants before and after these perks are taken. Notice that this only applies to new enchants, so take these talents before you enchant your endgame gear. 5/5 A+
  • Insightful Enchanter-Skill enchantments are 25% stronger. This perk applies to everything like fortify smithing, archery etc. This means even more weapon damage goodness as well as some potentially mind boggling damage using a little trick that will be explained later. 1/1 A+
  • *Corpus Enchanter*-New health/mana/stamina enchants are 25% stronger. This talent is really hit or miss. More life is always good, but you really should not need any more health than you get from leveling up if you are playing a rogue correctly. Invest a point here at your own discretion. 1/1 C+/B


If you look at the smithing tree you see that it is split in two, with light armor on the left hand side and heavy armors on the right. Common sense would tell you that rogues, being light armor devotees, would naturally progress up the left hand side. Wrong. This is one of those cases where the correct answer is the opposite of what you might think.

There are several reasons to take the heavy armor perks instead of the light armor ones. For one, rogues have access via factions to several different sets of class specific armor. These factions will be discussed in greater detail in part 4 of this guide, but suffice it to say that rogues have many, many gear choices for all of their equipment slots without ever crafting their own gear. The second reason not to take light armor smithing is because both side of the tree lead to the same place i.e. dragon smithing, so your endgame gear will be the same no matter which speciality you choose. Finally the number one reason to take heavy armor over light is because the most powerful weapons in the game are all daedric, which is a heavy armor. Taking the light armor perks will not hurt you, but I strongly recommend saving your perks and not investing in light armor smithing not matter ow much sense it seems to make. Here's my suggestions instead:

  • Steel Smithing-craft steel armor 1/1 A
  • Arcane Blacksmith-improve magical weapons and armor 1/1 A
  • Dwarven Smithing-create dwarven weapons and armor 1/1 A
  • Orcish Smithing-craft orcish weapons and armor 1/1 A
  • Ebony Smithing-craft ebony weapons and armor 1/1 A
  • Daedric Smithing-craft daedric weapons and armor 1/1 A++
  • *Dragon Smithing*-craft dragon armor. Ok, everyone wants the best gear in the game, that's half the fun of rpgs, and certainly wearing armor made from the scales of vanquished dragons is also awesome. However, rogues may want to seriously consider NOT taking dragon smithing, here's why. Rogues have so many gear choices that are perfectly suited to their class already in many cases dragon armor is a side grade at best. Even more importantly, you probably won't need the extra armor dragon armor gives. By the time you are capable of making a full set of dragon armor normal enemies will be dying in one hit to sneak attacks and even dragons won't be putting up much of a fight. Rogues are a high damage build that relies on the quick death of enemies, so items and gear that only offer a high armor rating are not always the best for us. That being said sometimes that which is mathematically sound must be sacrificed for that which allows you to wear the skin of slain dragons. The choice is yours.


Hey, I pick locks, I like finding treasure, it seems like this perk tree would make both of those things easier. Wrong. Lockpicking is very easy even with no perks invested once your skill raises and you get used to the mini-game. This trees perks may sound nice but your points are better spent elsewhere.


Another red herring of a tree. Some seemingly great talents, but they do not hold up under closer inspection. For one, persuasion and intimidation checks are generally successful even without any perks invested. Other talents like Fence, Bribery, Master Trader, Merchant etc. are actually useful. Trouble is there are plenty of ways to get these same benefits with no perk investment (quests, factions etc.) Save your points and join the Thieves Guild.


Some rogues swear by illusion spells like muffle and enrage/calm. Personally I have found these spells either useful or necessary. Additionally, muffle, the only illusion spell which is even really worth casting as a rogue, receives little to no benefit from any perk in this tree. Rogue/mage hybrids might find some use here but everyone else can skip this tree.

Reader suggested perks

Parting Thoughts

So that does it for perk selection. Follow this guide and your rogue will end up a virtually invisible armor clad phantom that hits like a Mac truck. Next up learn how to make the most of your rogue with gear choices, faction recommendations, and more!


Pandapocalypse (author) from Upstate NY on August 16, 2012:

Sometimes the battle between what works best and what looks coolest is a tough one! Prior to Dawnguard it made more sense to go up the heavy armor side of the tree even as a rogue because the best bow was Daedric. With DG all that changed and you are right in thinking that for rogues it makes a lot more sense to go the light armor route instead. As for the dwarven bows, there are lots of other ways to raise your smithing skill, so I wouldn't be top concerned with missing out there. Thanks for commenting!

dan on August 16, 2012:

I really enjoy playing a rogue type and the trouble I've had is deciding on the blacksmith tree. Nothing looks more BA than a daedric weapon but with the Dawnguard expansion Dragon bone weapons are now the best. You spend less perks going up the light armor side but you miss out on the hundreds of Dwarven bows you can make for what seems like free. So I still have trouble deciding.

Pandapocalypse (author) from Upstate NY on February 16, 2012:

Lynestra, thank you for the encouragement. The next section of the guide will discuss rogue/mage and rogue/warrior hybrids (sorry for the cliffhanger response!) Part 4 should be out by early next week.

Pandapocalypse (author) from Upstate NY on February 16, 2012:

Thanks for the suggestion Kyricus, and the feedback. I agree with you that the Restoration tree has some truly amazing perks that offer pretty impressive returns for minimal investments. Really if any class has some spare perks they wouldn't be wrong to stick them there. It was simply my experience that playing this type of build didn't require me to take a great deal of damage so healing spells weren't that necessary.

Lynestra on February 16, 2012:

Very nice rogue guide. Any tips for rogue/mage hybrid?

Tony from Ohio on February 16, 2012:

I am playing a ranged Archer/Rogue build and I love it. I agree that ranged gives you a lot of versatility.

I agree with, and use, many of the same perks you advocate using. The only other perk/tree I'd suggest investing in would be Restoration. If you've chosen the light armored route as I have, you'll find spending some points in restoration very helpful. It's always nice to be able to run and dodge your opponent while casting a healing spell at the same time. It's saved my life more times than I can count.

Nice Guide, I enjoyed it very much. Especially since this is my preferred build in almost all RPG's and MMO's