Two of the biggest topics discussed when speaking of Oblivion are the character creation and the character leveling system. In this page you will find the information you need to know in order to make a choice when you create a character (beginning of the game) and during your whole playthrough (when you have to level up).
It's not *essential* to know the subjects of this page in order to get the achievements of this game. Some suggestions for your choices will be done in the Story Walkthrough pages, so you don't have to think about it too much. However, if you wish to truly enjoy the game and everything it can offer, a proper knowledge of its gameplay essence is necessary.
Even if this page is a bit lengthy (and deliberately redundant sometimes) I suggest reading it thoroughly since these are the fundamental mechanics of this RPG.
During the first dungeon of the game you'll be progressively be prompted the three main choices that decide your character's starting point and his/her future growth. Given how easy the gameplay is, it doesn't really matter what you choose as far as the "let's make a good character to make the game easier" is concerned. Worst case scenario, you can always set the game difficulty to the lowest, and although some choices (starting choices and long-term "care" of the character's growth) might make the gameplay a bit harder or easier, it's basically impossible to screw up to the point you need to start over to continue.
Some suggestions about the character creation will be made in the Story Walkthrough page, but only for the purpose of giving the undecided players a good (but not necessarily the best) set-up for a guide-driven speedrun focused on obtaining the achievements as swiftly as we can figure. However, feel free to make totally different choices if that's how you feel about playing the game.
Also, if you have just barely started the game, keep in mind that you are allowed to change all the starting characteristics (Race, Class, etc.) before you exit the Imperial Sewers. Before exiting through the last door of that dungeon (the first of the game) you'll be prompted a four-choice menu where you can edit your generalities, your birthsign and your class again until you decide to pick the fourth option to exit the Sewers. After that point, your choice is final and you will play the rest of the game with the chosen settings.
The first choices you make are about the the Race of a character, his/her name and the physical appearance. Name and physical appearance don't change anything in terms of gameplay, so you can customize whatever you want.
The sex and race of the character will change some of the starting attributes and give the character particular skills. You can read about these bonuses in-game when scrolling through the different races. As for the attributes, without going into too much details here are the bonuses and maluses of each race from a base value of 40 (a bonus of +10 means that a certain character will start with 50 of that attribute, and so on):
- Male Imperial: +10 Personality, -10 Agility, -10 Willpower
- Female Imperial: +10 Personality, -10 Agility, -10 Speed
- Male Khajiit: +10 Agility, -10 Endurance, -10 Willpower
- Female Kajiit: +10 Agility, -10 Strength, -10 Willpower
- Male Nord: +10 Endurance, +10 Strength, -10 Intelligence, -10 Personality, -10 Willpower
- Female Nord: +10 Strength, -10 Intelligence, -10 Personality
- Male Orc: +10 Endurance, +10 Willpower, +5 Strength, -5 Agility, -10 Intelligence, -10 Personality, -10 Speed
- Female Orc: +10 Endurance, +5 Willpower, +5 Strength, -5 Agility, -15 Personality, -10 Speed
- Male Redguard: +10 Endurance, +10 Strength, -10 Intelligence, -10 Personality, -10 Willpower
- Female Redguard: +10 Endurance, -10 Intelligence, -10 Willpower
- Male Wood Elf: +10 Agility, +10 Speed, -10 Personality, -10 Strength, -10 Willpower
- Female Wood Elf: +10 Agility, +10 Speed, -10 Endurance, -10 Strength, -10 Willpower
- Male Argonian: +10 Agility, +10 Speed, -10 Endurance, -10 Personality, -10 Willpower
- Female Argonian: +10 Intelligence, -10 Endurance, -10 Personality
- Male Breton: +10 Intelligence, +10 Willpower, -10 Agility, -10 Endurance, -10 Speed
- Female Breton: +10 Intelligence, +10 Willpower, -10 Agility, -10 Endurance, -10 Strength
- Male Dark Elf: +10 Speed, -10 Personality, -10 Willpower
- Female Dark Elf: +10 Speed, -10 Endurance, -10 Willpower
- Male High Elf: +10 Intelligence, -10 Speed, -10 Strength
- Female High Elf: +10 Intelligence, -10 Endurance, -10 Strength
Note that Luck starts at 50 for everyone, and no Race gives a bonus or malus to this attribute.
The Race, regardless of gender, also determines some additional bonuses for the Skills (base level is 5, so a bonus of +10 means a Skill that starts at level 15):
- Imperial: +5 Blade, +5 Blunt, +5 Hand to Hand, +10 Heavy Armor, +10 Mercantile, +10 Speechcraft
- Kajiit: +5 Athletics, +5 Blade, +5 Light Armor, +5 Security, +5 Sneak, +10 Acrobatics, +10 Hand to Hand
- Nord: +5 Armor, +5 Block, +5 Restoration, +10 Blade, +10 Blunt, +10 Heavy Armor
- Orc: +5 Hand to Hand, +10 Armorer, +10 Block, +10 Blunt, +10 Heavy Armor
- Redguard: +5 Heavy Armor, +5 Light Armor, +5 Mercantile, +10 Athletics, +10 Blade, +10 Blunt
- Wood Elf: +5 Acrobatics, +5 Alteration, +5 Light Armor, +10 Alchemy, +10 Marksman, +10 Sneak
- Argonian: +5 Alchemy, +5 Blade, +5 Hand to Hand, +5 Illusion, +5 Mysticism, +10 Athletics, +10 Security
- Breton: +5 Alchemy, +5 Alteration, +5 Illusion, +10 Conjuration, +10 Mysticism, +10 Restoration
- Dark Elf: +5 Athletics, +5 Blunt, +5 Light Armor, +5 Marksman, +5 Mysticism, +10 Blade, +10 Destruction
- High Elf: +5 Alchemy, +5 Conjuration, +5 Illusion, +10 Alteration, +10 Destruction, +10 Mysticism
Race also influences other factors, such as elemental resistance and resistance against some status ailments, but these things would be far too specific to be discussed here. Another thing influenced by the race and gender is the character moving speed, with the High Elves (Male/Female) being the fastest of all and the Male Dark Elf being the slowest of all. In any case the difference is minimal, I've mentioned it just as a curiosity.
The birthsign provides bonuses and maluses of all kinds. Some birthsigns focus on giving you more "Magicka" (the Mana, MP, whatever you want to call it) to start, while others give you permanent stats boosts or even status effects. You can read the correspondent effects in-game. There are many good birthsigns to choose from, but there are also some obvious "bad" choices (The Steed, for instance, gives +20 Speed; while nice, this doesn't compare to much better bonuses). Usually the birthsigns that give a Magicka boost are better than the others, since the use of spells is largely encouraged in this game, at least for recovery purposes.
Keep in mind that the birthsign The Atronach prevents you from automatically recovering Magicka (which normally restores as the seconds pass by and it restores completely if you rest for at least one hour; none of this happens if you choose The Atronach). This heavy downside can be easily bypassed with a large stock of potions that recover Magicka instantly for you, and getting said stock of potions will be easy with the item duplication glitch.
At the end of this page we'll see why some birthsigns like The Thief and The Lady can possibly be the best ones to optimize your stats and leveling, although for a more "average" gameplay there is plenty of good choices. The only "bad" birthsign is The Steed; the others offer bonuses that, if you can make good use of them, will always reveal useful.
The class is where most of the variety comes from. There are many default classes to choose from, but you can also create your own custom class. As you can imagine, the custom classes are crucial to optimize the gameplay features.
The classes vary from these four elements: Specialization, Favored Attributes, Major Skills and (consequently to the last entry), also the Minor Skills.
The Specialization can be: Combat, Magic, Stealth. Each of these is associated with seven Skills (there is a total of 21 Skills in the game). The Skills associated with the Specialization you choose will start with a +5 bonus (by the way, the game says "+10", but it's actually +5) and will also level up faster*. Combat is associated with: Armorer, Athletics, Blade, Block, Blunt, Hand to Hand, Heavy Armor. Magic is associated with: Alchemy, Alteration, Conjuration, Destruction, Illusion, Mysticism, Restoration. Stealth is associated with Acrobatics, Light Armor, Marksman, Mercantile, Security, Sneak, Speechcraft.
*Only 3/4 of the "Skills Exp" is needed for the "Specialization" skills, so if you normally have to make 8 jumps to make a level up of Acrobatics you will only need 6 jumps if you choose Stealth as specialization.
Then we have the Attributes. Attributes are the basic parameters of your character. There is eight of them (Strength, Intelligence, Willpower, Agility, Speed, Endurance, Personality, Luck). Each of the Attributes is associated with three Skills, with the exception of Luck which is not associated to any Skills. The association between an Attribute and a Skill has a direct impact on the level-up mechanics, as described in the next section of this page. Of course each Attribute has a different impact on other characteristics of your hero: the Strength for instance affects also how easily you get fatigued, and the Intelligence affects your spells power and your Magicka.
The Favored Attributes you choose (you choose two Favored Attributes among the eight Attributes) will gain a +5 bonus to start.
Then we have the Major Skills and consequently the Minor Skills. Among the 21 Skills available, the seven Skills that you decide to choose as Major Skills will get a +20 bonus (so they start at level 25 instead of 5) and will level up faster than the Minor Skills**. Moreover, leveling up the Major Skills and the Minor Skills will have an impact on your character's level. This is a whole different topic which needs to be discussed separately in the next section.
**Only 3/5 of the "Skills Exp" is necessary to level up a Major Skill. If a Major Skill also falls among the Skills chosen with your Specialization (see earlier paragraphs) then the bonuses will stack: (3/5)*(3/4) = 0.45. In other words, a Skill which is a Major Skill and is a skill that you chose for your Specialization will require less than half (45%) of the regular "Skills Exp" to level up.
The Attributes associated with a certain Skill (the game says "the attributes that govern a certain skill") are:
- Strength: Blade, Blunt, Hand to Hand
- Intelligence: Alchemy, Conjuration, Mysticism
- Willpower: Alteration, Destruction, Restoration
- Agility: Marksman, Security, Sneak
- Speed: Acrobatics, Athletics, Light Armor
- Endurance: Armorer, Block, Heavy Armor
- Personality: Illusion, Mercantile, Speechcraft
- Luck: none
As every RPG, The Elder Scrolls IV - Oblivion has its own system to increase your character's level, his attributes, and his skills. However, unlike most of the other RPGs Oblivion doesn't rely on an Experience-based system where you simply kill the enemies and then eventually level up. The system used in Oblivion is much more elaborated, harder to understand the first time than it is to actually put to good use for a proper level-up.
In the following paragraphs we are going to discuss about the character leveling system, with a primary focus on how it is done and what are the consequences of a bad or careless planning of a character's growth. Understanding the optimal way of leveling up will be a direct consequence of your knowledge.
How the level-up works
In order to level up you must increase the level of your Major Skills by a total of +10 levels; then you need to rest in a bed for the level up to actually occur. By "total of +10" I mean that the ten level-ups of Major Skills can be done across all the seven Major Skills you have. In other words, it doesn't matter if you make +10 level-ups on the same Major Skill, if you make +5 level-ups in two different Major Skills, or if you make +4 level-ups in a Major Skill and +1 level-up in each of the other six Major Skills: as long as the total amount of level-ups made across all the Major Skills is equal or above +10 you will be able to level up (by resting in a bed, as already mentioned). You will notice a "You should rest and meditate on what you've learned" message when you hit the tenth level up of a Major Skill. Moreover you can check the progression towards a level-up in the Skills tab of your character: the more it fills red, the closer you are to level up (in this picture you can see a character ready to level up).
When you gain a level, you are allowed to increase three of your eight attributes by an "X" amount. The attributes that will be increased are completely at your choice, so you can pick whatever three attributes out of the eight possible. The amount "X" can vary from +1 to +5, which is the max, including the values in-between. In particular, you get to upgrade a certain attribute by more points if before resting to level up you increased the skills governed by that attribute by a total amount of +10 levels. Each attribute governs three skills (except Luck, which doesn't govern any skill; see the last part of the Character Creation section). As it was for the requirement to level-up, also in this case the level-ups are cumulative across all the Major/Minor Skills governed by a certain attribute. For example, the Intelligence attribute governs the skills of Alchemy, Conjuration and Mysticism. Regardless of whether you chose one of these skills as Major rather than Minor Skill, if the total increase of these skills was +10 (or higher) then when you level up you are allowed to upgrade Intelligence by +5 by choosing Intelligence as one of the three attributes to increase upon leveling. Of course to reach said result you could increase, say, Alchemy by +10 and Conjuration/Mysticism by +0 (no level-ups), or also Alchemy and Conjuration by +3 and Mysticism by +4: as long as the total is 10 or higher you will still get the maximum increase (+5) available for that attribute.
As for the lower increases, you get to increase a certain attribute by +4 if the total level-ups of the three skills governed by that attribute is 8 or 9; the increase will be +3 if the level-ups were 5, 6 or 7; it will be +2 if the level-ups were 1, 2, 3 or 4; if will be only +1 (minimum available by default) if you didn't increase a single level of the skills governed by that attribute. For this reason, the attribute Luck (which doesn't govern any skill) can only be increased by +1 each level up, provided you decide to choose it as one of the three attributes to boost with your character's level-up.
Due to this system, the max you can get out of a character's level-up is an increase of +5 in three different attributes, or an increase of +1 in Luck and +5 of two different attributes. It's not possible to boost more than three attributes when you level-up, and it's not possible to boost the attributes higher than +5. It's also not possible to boost the same attribute multiple times on the same level-up (you have to choose three different attributes to boost), in case you were wondering.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the attributes cap at 100 (it's technically possible to go beyond these values with a certain item, the Oghma Infinium, which is the reward of a quest that gives +10 to a couple of attributes, but let's ignore this exception). As for the skills, they also cap at 100. Moreover, the skills become harder to level-up as their level increases (a skill takes less effort to level-up from level 5 to level 6 than it would take to level it up from level 99 to level 100, for instance).
The downsides of bad (over-)leveling
At this point you should be able to understand that the skills increasement is a double-edged sword. On the one hand we have:
- Major Skills: increasing them is necessary to level up
- Major and Minor Skills: increasing them is necessary to increase the amount of bonus points added to the three attributes you choose to increase when you level-up your character
On the other hand, it's also true that there are downsides of over-leveling. About the Major Skills:
- The level-up of Major Skills can be considered the "level up currency" that you have to "pay" to level up your character. In particular, as we explained earlier, the "price" to level up your character is increasing the level of your Major Skills (cumulative across all the Major Skills) by +10. If you level up them more than +10 levels (cumulative, again) you'll be wasting your "level up currency". For example, if you level up two of your Major Skills by +7 levels each, then the total level-ups made with the Major Skills will be +14, but +10 is already enough to level up. Therefore you wasted four units of your "level up currency". The thing is, for the next level up you will need to increase the Major Skills (cumulative, as usual) by +10 from the last level up! In other words, it's not like the exceeding amount of Major-Skills-level-ups will be accounted as a sort of "credit" for the next level-up: if you gained +14 levels among your Major Skills and then levelled up, the next level will still require +10 levels of Major Skills and not only +6 because there were "4 levels of change" spared in the previous level-up
- The Major Skills all start at level 25 by default (minimum). Since the maximum level is 100, it means that each Major Skill can be leveled up a total of 75 times (25+75=100), and therefore, with seven Major Skills available, the total of level-ups of your Major Skills is 75*7 = 525. With the terms used in the paragraph above, this means that your "level up currency" is 525. Not more, but potentially less if your Major Skills received a boost from your Race, Class Specialization and Class Favored Attribute. With an optimal setup (or almost optimal), since every 10 level-ups of Major Skills you can level up your character by +1 level, the maximum level you can reach with your character is: 1 (you begin at level 1) + (525/10) = 1+52.5 = 53.5. In other words, you can reach a maximum level of 53, and you can "waste" a total of five Major Skills level-ups. If you don't plan the leveling of Major Skills, the maximum level you can reach of course will be decreased
- If you waste so much "level up currency" (i.e. you level up the Major Skills over the minimum necessary, which is +10 levels, for too many times) you will reach the cap of the Major Skills (let's say they are all at level 100) before you are able to reach the cap of your attributes. Let's take it to the extreme: you level up all your even Major Skills from level 25 to level 100 while your character is at level 1. You go to sleep and you level up to level 2; you get to choose three attributes to boost by +5 (Luck by +1 as usual). The end. You won't be able to level up any further than level 2 because there are no more Major Skills to increase. Therefore you also won't be able to increase your attributes any further
- In addition to lowering the max character level you can reach, the over-leveling of Major Skills also has an impact on how fast you can level up. If you remember, we already mentioned how the skills will level up more quickly at first and more slowly later (faster to go from level 25 to 26 than from level 99 to level 100). It goes without saying that when you over-level you waste the easy level-ups. To make an extreme example, if you level up your Major Skills all to level 70 when your character is level 1, and then you rest in a bed to reach character level 2, to reach level 3 you will need a lot of effort because you need to level up the Major Skills that are already at level 70. In other words you'll be making the effort that it should take you to reach the highest level (if you plan the level-ups properly) to reach a mere level 3 character which with a proper planning should only take you a few minutes to grind the necessary Major Skills level-ups
- To recap, an optimal control of your Major Skills level-up (or almost-optimal, since 5 of the 525 level-ups are "useless") allows you to reach level 53, the maximum without exploting glitches, and easily max-out your attributes. Note that maxing out the attributes is also possible before level 53. However, a terrible control of your Major Skills level-up will result in a lower level-up "potential" (maximum level lower than 53, etc.), which without taking the situation to the extreme consequences (like the "max level = 2" example) can still be a rather bad approach at the game and result in a slower level-up
- Keep in mind that the enemies level up with you in this game, and increasing their level while having a poor growth of attributes will mean that your character's level-ups might actually do more harm than good. On the other hand, it's also worth remembering that if you set the game to lowest difficulty setting you can screw up all you want, but you will hardly manage to be in danger (especially with all the glitches and tricks to exploit), so now I don't want to "scare" you saying that if you don't plan your level-ups you'll get stuck because you are too weak and the bosses will be undefeatable for you
Regarding the Minor Skills, there are downsides of over-leveling them too. As a memo, when you level up you can boost three attributes (you choose which ones) by a value that ranges from +1 and +5, and to increase a certain attribute by +5 you must have leveled up one of the three skills "governed" ("related to") that particular attribute by a total of +10 (cumulative) levels. Also, the skills governed by a certain attribute can be Major or Minor Skills. Therefore what we are saying here about the negative effects of over-leveling Minor Skills is also true about the over-leveling of Major Skills, so over-leveling Major Skills has not only the negative effects described earlier, but also the following ones (which are also the negative effects of over-leveling Minor Skills):
- The over-leveling of Minor Skills does not have an impact on your character's max level. You may level up all the Minor Skills to level 100 when your character is at level 1, then rest in a bed to reach level 2, and still be able (provided you didn't screw up the Major Skills too) to reach level 53
- Over-leveling the Major/Minor Skills has a negative effect on how high you can boost your attributes, and also how fast you can boost them. The reasons are very similar to why the Major Skills have a negative effect on how high you can boost your character level and how fast you can level up your character: the level-ups of Minor/Major Skills are the "attributes-boost currency", and you need to "spend" 10 level-ups to "buy" the boost of +5 for a certain attribute upon leveling up
- The extreme example in this case is if you level up all your Minor Skills to level 100 when your character is at level 1, and then (after also increasing any Major Skills by +10 levels - cumulative, as usual - ) you rest in a bed to reach level 2. As you level up you get to choose three attributes to boost by +5, which is ok. However, on the next character level up you won't be able to boost Minor Skills (along with Major Skills) to get the +5 bonus, and therefore (assuming you optimize at least the Major Skills leveling) you will reach level 53 but most of the time you will only get +1 on your chosen attributes instead of the ideal +5
- In this extreme example, in theory you could still level up three Major Skills associated to three different attributes to get the maximum boost, but not for many levels. For instance the Major Skills you choose to level up are Blunt, Alchemy and Destruction, which are associated to Strength, Intelligence and Willpower respectively. Say you level up Blunt +10, Alchemy +10 and Destruction +10 (they are all Major Skills). As you level up you'll be able to get the +5 bonus attribute for Strength, Intelligence and Willpower, but it goes without saying that you just reduced the level cap by -2 levels (you just wasted 20 Major Skills level-ups since you made 10+10+10 = 30 level-ups instead of just 10 necessary to increase your character's level) and on the long (quite short actually) run this means running out of level-ups for your character and ending with a weak character despite a huge effort to level up
- Although this extreme example is not a very likely situation, it's also true that if you "waste" your Minor Skills level-ups you will make the attributes growth slower. Like we said for the Major Skills and character level: if you level up all the Minor Skills to level 70 when your character is at level 1 and then you level up to level 2, it will take much more time and effort to get +10 level-ups of Minor Skills now that they are all at level 70; certainly more time and effort than it would take if they were not over-leveled and remained at, say, level 15
This is all about the downsides of over-leveling.
How to efficiently level-up
First of all, what is the definition of "efficient level up" in Oblivion? From what we saw so far an efficient level up is a planned and most importantly controlled level up which doesn't waste the level-ups of the Major and Minor Skills, and by that we mean that you level up with the minimum amount of Major Skills level-up necessary (10 in total) and with the minimum amount of Minor Skills level-up necessary to get a +5 boost in three different parameters (20 in total, as we're going to explain). Note that there are two level-ups strategies, known as the "5/5/5" and the "5/5/1" strategy. We will explain the meaning of these names (well, numbers) and the differences after seeing how the "5/5/5" works and before seeing how the "5/5/1" works. The text below will start speaking of the 5/5/5 approach, the easiest and most classic.
Let's make a couple of examples to clear things up. Let's say you choose the following Major Skills: Armorer, Alchemy, Alteration, Hand to Hand, Sneak, Speechcraft, Light Armor. These skills are associated respectively with these Attributes (or, as the game would say, "these Attributes govern the previous skills"): Endurance, Intelligence, Willpower, Strength, Agility, Personality, Speed.
The choice of these seven Major Skills is good, since as you can see there is a Major Skill for every Attribute. It would have been a worse choice if you picked something like this: Blunt, Blade, Hand to Hand, Alchemy, Conjuration, Mysticism, Security. In this second example the only Attributes governing the Major Skills chosen would be Strength (for the first three), Intelligence (for the next three), Agility (for the last one). Ideally, the first step towards a good character leveling is to choose a Major Skill for every different Attribute. Of course you can choose seven Major Skills only, while there are eight Attributes; this is not a problem since you should know that Luck (the eighth Attribute) doesn't govern a Major Skill anyway, so you couldn't choose a Major Skill related to Luck even if you were able to select eight Major Skills instead of seven.
So, now we have our Major Skills (those of the first example; Armorer, Alchemy, etc.) and we want to level up efficiently. As we said earlier, "efficiently" means that we level-up only 10 Major Skills in total and only 20 Minor Skills in total, and of course we also have to choose which of the 21 skills to level up.
First thing first, decide which Attributes you want to raise with your next level up. For example, let's say you want to raise Strength, Intelligence, Willpower.
The second thing you should do is taking note of the current level of your skills. If possible, take note of all the 21 skills levels, though it will be necessary to track only nine of them at most. The reason why nine will be enough is simple: you want to level up only the Skills (Major/Minor) associated with three Attributes (the three you decided to raise with this level up), and since each Attribute is associated with ("governs") three Skills (except the usual Luck) then 3 Skills * 3 Attributes = 9. Of course you don't want to level up any of the Skills that are not related to the three Attributes you want to raise.
The third step is to actually level up the skills before the fourth and last step which will be finding a bed to sleep and level up. At this point we need to level-up 10 Major Skills and 20 Minor Skills (not one more, not one less) among the nine Skills associated with the three Attributes we decided to level-up (Strength, Intelligence, Willpower). In particular, the Major Skills involved are: Hand to Hand (Strength), Alchemy (Intelligence), Alteration (Willpower). The Minor Skills involved in our example are: Blade, Blunt (Strength), Conjuration, Mysticism (Intelligence), Destruction, Restoration (Willpower). At this point you can combine the level-ups of these skills so you get a total of +10 levels among Hand to Hand, Alchemy, Alteration, and a total of +20 levels among Blade, Blunt, Conjuration, Mysticism, Destruction, Restoration.
Note that you not only have to combine +10 levels among the Major Skills and +20 among the Minor Skills, but you also must make sure to fulfill another requirement: the sum of level-ups of the three Skills associated with ("governed by") the same Attribute must be exactly 10, not more, not less. Therefore you must get a total of +10 levels among Hand to Hand, Blade, Blunt; another +10 levels among Alchemy, Conjuration, Mysticism; another +10 levels among Alteration, Destruction, Restoration.
Provided you fulfill both of these requirements (+10 levels among the Major Skills and +20 levels among the Minor Skills; +10 levels among the Major Skill and the two Minor Skills governed by the same Attribute), you can choose any combination of level-ups you want. For example, an efficient level up is:
- Hand to Hand: +2 levels (Strength: 2/10)
- Alchemy: +1 level (Intelligence: 1/10)
- Alteration: +7 levels (Willpower: 7/10)
- Blade: +5 levels (Strength: 7/10)
- Blunt: +3 levels (Strength: 10/10)
- Conjuration: +4 levels (Intelligence: 5/10)
- Mysticism: +5 levels (Intelligence: 10/10)
- Destruction: +3 levels (Willpower: 10/10)
- Restoration: +0 levels (no level up)
The two requirements for the efficient level up have been fulfilled, since the Major Skills received +10 levels (+2, +1, +7), the Minor Skills received +20 levels (+5, +3, +4, +5, +3), and each set of Skills related to a certain Attribute has received +10 levels (+2, +5, +3 for Strength; +1, +4, +5 for Intelligence; +7, +3, +0 for Willpower).
As you can see it's perfectly fine to exclude one of the Minor Skills from the level up plan, and in this example there was no need to level-up Restoration since we already fulfilled the two key requirements before leveling it up. Therefore, if you think about it, the minimum amount of Skills to level up is not nine, but actually only three. As a matter of fact, another efficient level up could have been:
- Hand to Hand: +10 levels (Strength: 10/10)
- Conjuration: +10 levels (Intelligence: 10/10)
- Destruction: +10 levels (Willpower: 10/10)
- All the other six* Skills: +0 levels
*Alchemy, Alteration, Blade, Blunt, Mysticism, Restoration. Of course you also won't level up (+0 levels) the remaining 12 Skills (those that are not related to the three Attributes you decided to raise in this level-up).
In this second example we also fulfilled the two requirements, but we only leveled up one Major Skill (Hand to Hand) and two Minor Skills. The sum of level-ups of the Major Skills is still 10, the sum of level ups for the Minor Skills is still 20, and the sum of level ups of the three skills (one Major, two Minor) associated with the same Attribute is still 10.
Whether to distribute the level-ups more widely among the nine skills involved rather than focusing only on three skills is up to you, though from personal experience I can tell that you are more likely to use the second approach rather than the first one. As a matter of fact, it's easier to sit there and focus on leveling up a certain skill by 10 levels (for instance, sit there and punch your horse until you level up Hand to Hand 10 times, sit there and spam Conjuration and Destruction spells until you gain 10 levels in each) rather than doing multiple tasks at once. It's also a bit easier to track the progression of your skills with the second approach (the focus on three skills only), because in this case you don't even need to remember the pre-grinding level of the nine skills involved since remembering only the three of them that you are going to level up is enough.
Sometimes you will need to work on all the nine skills though (or at least more than just three). This is mainly due to the fact that some skills may level up "accidentally", so even if you planned to focus only on three skills you may need to change your plans slightly. For example, let's say that you want to raise your Speed, which governs these skills: Athletics, Acrobatics, Light Armor. Your plans at first might be to get +10 levels on Light Armor by getting hit over and over by some aggressive rats in the Imperial Sewers. However, you may "accidentally" level up your Athletics skill by +2 levels (random number to make this example) as you walk towards the location where you will level up (Athletics is leveled up by walking, in case you don't know). For this reason you would want to change your original plan of +10 levels on Light Armor to +8 levels of Light Armor to add to the +2 level of Athletics that you got by accident.
Therefore it's still a good idea to take note of all the levels of the nine skills related to the three Attributes you want to raise on the next level up, and always double-check that you haven't made any "accidental" level-up of skills. Note that another consequence of the fact that some skill may "accidentally" level up is that you should plan to invest your first level-ups to raise some specific Attributes with some specific Skills; this will be a matter of discussion in the last part of this page, when speaking of the very last suggestions to make your level-up process as smooth as possible.
Up to this point we have discussed the classic approach "5/5/5". You probably understood that the term "5/5/5" means that you get an increase of +5 for the three Attributes you decided to work on in the current level up. In other words, in our previous main examples when you go to bed after raising your skills you will get up and you'll be able to raise your Strength by 5, your Intelligence by 5, your Destruction by 5. Of course the remaining five Attributes can only be raised by +1, since you didn't level up a single Skill (Major/Minor) for them.
As we anticipated in the first part of this section of the page there is also another approach, the "5/5/1" approach. As a matter of fact what we said so far it's all true when you decide to level up three Attributes among the seven Attributes that govern skills (Strength, Intelligence, Willpower, Agility, Speed, Endurance, Personality). What about Luck, the eighth Attribute?
When you decide to raise Luck in your next level-up the Skills you will focus on are six instead of nine (3 Skills * 2 Attributes = 6). For example, if you decide to level up Strength, Intelligence and Luck, you will need to pay attention only to Blade, Blunt, Hand to Hand (Strength) and Alchemy, Conjuration, Mysticism (Intelligence). The two golden rules, the two key requirements you must fulfill for the efficient level-up, are still the same: +10 levels among Major Skills and +20 levels among Minor Skills; +10 levels among the three Skills governed by the same Attribute. The only difference is that the second requirement needs to be taken in consideration only for two Attributes (Strength and Intelligence) because the third one that we're going to level up (Luck) doesn't govern any Skill.
So, similarly to our previous examples (assuming we have the same Major Skills and Minor Skills that we set earlier), an optimal level-up to raise Strength, Intelligence and Luck is:
- Hand to Hand: +2 levels (Strength: 2/10)
- Alchemy: +1 level (Intelligence: 1/10)
- Blade: +5 levels (Strength: 7/10)
- Blunt: +3 levels (Strength: 10/10)
- Conjuration: +4 levels (Intelligence: 5/10)
- Mysticism: +5 levels (Intelligence: 10/10)
And of course you can focus on less Skills too:
- Hand to Hand: +10 levels (Strength: 10/10)
- Conjuration: +10 levels (Intelligence: 10/10)
- All the other four* Skills: +0 levels
*Alchemy, Blade, Blunt, Mysticism. Of course you also won't level up (+0 levels) the remaining 15 Skills (those that are not related to the three Attributes you decided to raise in this level-up).
Regardless of the approach (focus on anything between 6 and 2 Skills), this is an efficient level-up, and after going to bed you'll be able to raise Strength by 5, Intelligence by 5, and all the other Attributes by 1. In particular, you will choose Luck as your third Attribute to raise, so you get an increase of +5/+5/+1 in Strength/Intelligence/Luck.
Now you know why these two leveling up strategies (5/5/5 and 5/5/1) exist, and the reasons why they both exist: the 5/5/5 approach is an optimal level-up for seven Attributes, while the 5/5/1 approach is an optimal level-up for eight Attributes. At this point you are probably wondering if it's worth investing time in raising Luck, since raising Luck practically means that you will raise the remaining seven Attributes (which you probably hold dear much more than the random Luck) slower, in particular at 67% (2/3; it's because you raise two of the seven Attributes per level up instead of three) of the efficiency you could work on raising them. There is no real answer to this question: Luck is, indeed, much less important than the other seven Attributes, since it doesn't really make you stronger. On the other hand it *is* an Attribute after all, and therefore if you are a perfectionist you will probably want 100 Luck too.
The last thing to say about these two approaches is that of course you don't have to "choose one and stick with it forever", but you can (and will, unless you decide to give up on Luck and stick only to the 5/5/5) decide to make some level-ups with a strategy and some other level-ups with the other approach. In any case, know that if you do plan on maxing out your Attributes (including Luck) then you should stick with the 5/5/1 approach until you max-out Luck. The reason is rather simple: it will take less levels to max out the eight Attributes with the 5/5/1 approach (on the contrary if you don't care about Luck it will take less levels to max out the remaining seven Attributes with the 5/5/5 approach; this is obvious).
If you don't believe so, then think that there are four Attributes instead of eight, called A, B, C, Luck. The Attributes max out at 20 instead of 100, they start at level 1 by default, and the most you can raise them per level up is +5 for A, B, C and +1 for Luck (like it is in the real game). With the 5/5/1 approach you can do the first four level-ups to raise A, B, Luck (+20/+20/+5); then you do the next four level-ups to raise C and Luck (+20/+0/+5)*, so at this point you are level 9 (you start at level 1 by default, so it's 1+4+4) and you have maxed out A, B, C and you have Luck at level 9. The last eleven level-ups are only to raise Luck (+0/+0/+11)* -- at level 20 you have a character with all the Attributes maxed-out.
If you choose the 5/5/5 approach in this fictionary example then you can raise A, B, C in the first four levels (+20/+20/+20), so you have them maxed-out when you are level 5 (instead of level 9 of the 5/5/1 approach), but then you would need another nineteen levels to max-out Luck (+0/+0/+19)*. Therefore you need to reach level 24 to max-out all the stats, instead of level 20 with the 5/5/1 approach. Long story short, since Luck is the slowest Attribute to raise, if you want to raise it in the first place then you should go for the 5/5/1 approach -- it will raise your seven "important" Attributes more slowly, but it pays out on the long run since you will finish maxing out every Attribute, including Luck, as early as possible.
*The 5/5/5 approach and 5/5/1 approach are the main approaches, true. Of course once you are about to finish leveling up the Attributes (when you need to raise less than three Attributes) you'll end up with some 5/5/0, 5/0/1, 0/0/1 or even 0/0/5 (0/0/5 is hardly likely, since Luck is usually the last Attribute you max so you probably won't end up with all Attributes maxed out except for one of the seven that govern Skills, but anyways), but only because you are "out of Attributes to raise".
With this being said, there is nothing else to say about the efficient way of leveling up. The last topic of this page will deal with some suggestions on raising skills and leveling up.
Difficulty doesn't change the speed at which you level up. There are however some situations where changing difficulty will make a difference. For example, raising the difficulty while training a skill such as Hand to Hand is a good idea, since it's a skill that levels-up by a certain amount every hit you land, and therefore it's more convenient to have a target that dies in, say, 100 hits rather than a target that will get killed after the second punch.
Regarding the "priority" of leveling up, Luck, Speed and Endurance have the highest of all. The reasons are:
- Luck levels-up more slowly than the other Skills, as explained a few paragraphs ago
- Speed governs the two Skills that are easier to level up by accident (Acrobatics and Athletics)
- Endurance increases the amount of HP (Health) you get at the next level up (you get +[Endurance/10] HP; if your Endurance is 80, you get +8 HP upon leveling)
In particular, raising Luck is a priority "on the long term", meaning that you want to stick with raising Luck basically until you max it out (one of the last level-ups you will do, if not the last one). Endurance is a "medium term" priority, because you want to max it out (so you can have max HP when leveling up) as soon as possible, but you'll be done with it before your last level-up. As for Speed, it's a "low term" priority, since you can actually stop giving it priority even before you max it out: Athletics and Acrobatics will level up VERY slowly when they reach higher skill levels, and therefore it's pretty much impossible to level up by accident Athletics from, say, level 75 to level 76. Of course all the walks and runs you make will still give you some accidental level-ups on these Skills, but it's highly unlikely that they will stack so much to actually make a difference (remember that to reach max Attributes you don't need a "perfect" level-up, and some accidental level-ups are allowed).
Due to these priorities, you first level-ups should be focused on maxing out Endurance while raising Luck and Speed. After reaching level 40-50 in Athletics (30 is enough for Acrobatics) you are basically safe from accidental level-ups of these skills, so you can remove the "priority flag" from the Speed Attribute and raise another random Attribute that you want. Just keep an eye out for Athletics and Acrobatics every now and then maybe: if you see that they are about to gain a skill level you might as well decide to work on them to actually make a skill level-up on them (either or both) and dedicate your current level-up to increasing Speed. These are all intuitive "good ideas", but they are worth mentioning nonetheless.
Another consequence of these priorities is that you should choose your Race/Sex, Birthsign and Class (the whole Character Creation) according to them. In particular, since Luck has the highest priority of all, you should choose The Thief Birthsign (Luck +10) and make a Custom Class with Luck as one of your two "Favored Attributes" (so Luck gets another +5). Regarding the Gender/Sex, none gives a boost for Luck; the second-highest priority is Endurance, and the best Races for Endurance are Orc, Redguard (either gender) and the Male Nord (each of them gives +10 Endurance).
The other things left to choose are the Class "Specialization", the Class second "Favored Attribute", and of course the Major and Minor Skills. The second Favored Attribute is an easy choice: Endurance, since it's the other one (along with Luck) that you want as high as possible by default. The "Specialization" is not very important, but if you have to choose you should probably go with Magic; it's a decision made by excluding Combat and Stealth rather than a real preference for Magic, since Combat and Stealth already have a lot of skills that are rather easy to level-up, while Magic has a few that go up quite slowly. Moreover, Combat is associated with Athletics and Stealth with Acrobatics, so if you choose Combat/Stealth you will level-up faster one of the two Skills that level-up by accident more easily. Then again, it won't make much difference.
Note that if you don't want to max-out Luck then you should choose The Lady Birthsign (+10 Endurance). It doesn't matter which will be your Favored Attribute instead of Luck, since none of the other six Attributes needs a good starting point from the point of view of the leveling up efficiency. You may want to choose Willpower as Favored Attribute since the speed at which you regenerate MP (Magicka) depends on your Willpower, but a boost of +5 to start, while nice, doesn't make much difference.
Lastly, the Major and Minor Skills. The two criteria that you should use to make your choice are based on what we said so far. First and most important, make sure to choose a Major Skill for each of the seven Attributes that govern skills (i.e. don't pick two Major Skills if they are both governed by the same Attribute, like Blade and Blunt). Then, for extra planning, avoid choosing skills that on the long run are harder to level up and prefer those that you can level up more easily (the Major Skills need to hit very high levels to max-out the Attributes since they are also necessary to level up your character, while the Minor Skills won't always need to reach high levels to max-out Attributes). The most famous case is the skill Mercantile, which you should definitely avoid. Read the next and last "how-to-level-skills" part to get an idea of which skills level up more quickly on the long run, and therefore should be preferred as Major Skills.
Another thing to make a couple of choices are the Light Armor and Heavy Armor skills. If you plan to use Light Armor in the game, then you should not choose Light Armor as a Major Skills; same thing if you want to use Heavy Armor. The reason is obvious: if you're going to level up by accident (the skills Light Armor and Heavy Armor are leveled up when you get hit while equipping these pieces of equipment, so it's very possible to get accidental level-ups while fighting) it's better if you level up a Minor Skill rather than a Major Skill, since wasting a level up of Minor Skill is not such a big deal as wasting a level up of Major Skill. In case you wonder, neither is better between Light and Heavy Armor, it's only a matter of personal taste.
At last, as just anticipated, some suggestions on how to level up your skills. The skills are grouped by Attribute governing them.
Strength - Blade, Blunt, Hand to Hand
The strength skills are leveled up when you hit a living target (dummies don't count, it must be a living being with some HP) with a certain type of weapon. In particular, cutting blades (swords, knives, ...) will level up Blade; axes will level up Blunt; bare fists (no weapon equipped) will level up Hand to Hand.
Leveling up these skills is done more easily if you summon a monster with one of the Conjuration spells, then raise up the difficulty and beat the monsters up for good. Note that the monster will fight back if you start attacking him, so be careful and ready to take some damage. For this reason it's usually a good idea to level up Heavy Armor/Light Armor at the same time as the Strength skills: they are all "melee-fighting" types of skills, so getting into this kind of action is likely to earn you points in each of them.
A good way to raise Hand to Hand (to some extent also the other two, though they don't work that well) is to punch the horses you own. Don't do this on random horses, since they will fight back and die eventually. If you do this on your own horse, with high difficulty, the downsides basically don't exist. This is perfect when you do it against a powerful horse like the one you are gifted after one of the Dark Brotherhood quests ("The Purification"), since it not only has a lot of health, but it's also literally impossible to kill it (it will just faint on the ground).
Since Hand to Hand deals the least damage and levels up slightly faster than the other two, it's the optimal Major Skill to choose among the three related to Strength.
Intelligence - Alchemy, Conjuration, Mysticism
Alchemy levels up very easily, and is pretty much impossible to level up by accident. It can level up when you eat random stuff (not very effective) or when you create potions with the alchemy sets and the ingredients (most effective way).
Conjuration, like every spell-related skill, is best leveled up by creating a cheap custom spell at the Arcane University (you need to be a member of the Mages Guild to do so). The cheapest option is a Summon Skeleton spell which lasts only 1 second, so it also costs the least possible Magicka and you can spam it over and over. The reason why you want to use a "weak" spell (the custom ones can be as weak as possible, usually weaker than the weakest pre-made spell found in shops, dungeons, etc.) is that it will take less Magicka to use the spell and you also must use the spell for a "real" purpose (for instance if you fail to hit your target when casting offensive spells to level up the skill Destruction you will not gain Exp for that skill). The strength of a spell is a value known as "Magnitude". Keep in mind the "block and cast" tip written in the General hints and tips too (if you draw your weapon and hold LT to Block, you can spam spells with RB more quickly than if you weren't blocking). Once you run out of Magicka, use the "Wait" feature (press Back and wait for as much as you want) to recover it. This will not work for The Atronach Birthsign characters, which will need to use potions to heal while grinding.
Mysticism is another spell-related skill: create a custom "Detect Life" spell for this one and spam it on yourself. Again, set minimal "Magnitude", the strength of the spells, so it takes less Magicka to use it, allowing you to cast it more times before needing a break for healing.
Conjuration is the best of these as Major Skill, since it goes up twice as fast as Mysticism and is much easier than Alchemy. On the other hand, Alchemy is also the safest of all since it's "accidental-level-up-proof".
Willpower - Alteration, Destruction, Restoration
Alteration is a spell-related skill; create a weak custom "Shield" spell and spam it on yourself.
Destruction is another spell-related skill. A good custom spell for this one is "Weakness to Fire" (or any other element, it doesn't matter) since you can set it to cast it on yourself.
Restoration is again a spell-related skill; go for a custom "Restore Fatigue" spell here.
Alteration goes up faster than the other two, so it's the best choice as Major Skill.
Agility - Marksman, Security, Sneak
Marksman levels up when you hit a living target. You can summon an enemy with Conjuration spells, raise up the difficulty, jump on a roof where the summoned enemy won't reach you, and spam arrows from there.
Security goes up when you succeed in fixing a tumbler of a lock you are trying to open, but also when you use the "Auto-Attempt" feature. The shops of the Market District of Imperial City can be lock-picked repeatedly at night, and the locks will be "respawned" after a few days of waiting in-game time. It's useful to have the "Skeleton Key" (see General hints and tips) for this one. So either Auto-Attempt the locks of shops, or simply learn to stick the tumblers in and work on the same lock over and over without opening it (fix all the tumblers but one, then exit and try again: the tumblers will be reset again).
Sneak is very simple if you can find someone standing still (a guard near a gate) and you auto-run (keep LS held in a direction where you run against a wall or something) while you are somewhere undetected, like between a wall and a building. Alternatively you can pickpocket random people. Having a 100% Chameleon effect (see correspondent section of the walkthrough) helps.
Security and Sneak are both excellent Major Skills, but you may prefer Sneak since it can be automatised.
Speed - Acrobatics, Athletics, Light Armor
Acrobatics goes up when you make a jump and when you take damage from a fall. The second way is more risky but levels you up more quickly. On the other hand if you can find a low "roof" of some kind (for instance the bottom part of the piers) and you manage to jump repeatedly below the small roof then you can easily tap the jump button to jump, hit the roof (so the jump lasts only a fraction of second and you immediately return on the ground), jump again, etc.
Athletics is leveled up when you run or swim. Swimming is more effective, but not by much. If you have it, equip a piece of equipment with a Water Breathing enchantment and swim underwater towards a rock or something. Otherwise simply run towards a wall outside of the water. For obvious reasons you don't gain Athletics points if you ride a horse.
Equip Light Armor gears and get hit repeatedly by aggressive enemies to raise the Light Armor skill. The rats in the Imperial Sewers are good options, but any place will work fine. Turn the difficulty to the minimum, so you don't take much damage.
Light Armor is the easiest to level up and the least likely to level up by accident, so it's a good choice. If you plan on using Light Armor in the game you may change your choice to Acrobatics, since it's less likely to level up by accident than Athletics and Light Armor.
Endurance - Armorer, Block, Heavy Armor
For Armorer you can create a custom spell with a "Disintegrate Armor" effect to cast on yourself. Then simply use a Repair Hammer to repair the broken armor.
To raise Block find an enemy and hold the block button to defend; each hit blocked will level you up. As for Light Armor, turn down the difficulty.
Heavy Armor works like Light Armor, except you have to equip Heavy Armor suits.
Heavy Armor is quite easy to level up without an active effort, so it's the best of these. If you want to use Heavy Armor in the game then you may prefer Armorer instead, which cannot level up "by accident".
Personality - Illusion, Mercantile, Speechcraft
Illusion is a spell-related skill; create a weak custom "Light" spell and spam it.
Mercantile goes up every time you buy and sell something. Selling multiple items at once will not level it up more, so keep buying and selling low-cost items from/to the same merchant over and over.
Speechcraft is easy to level up, since it goes up every time you complete a "round" of the "Persuasion minigame". Approach any other character and do the minigame randomly; it doesn't matter if his disposition goes up or down. As a matter of fact, it's better if you fail since you won't reach the max disposition (usually around 100) which would prevent you from continuing the minigame. Any NPC is ok to do this. Bribing doesn't increase this skill.
Speechcraft goes up very fast and can't be leveled up by accident (the only times you need to raise it to progress in some quests it can still be bypassed by bribing the NPC instead of doing the persuasion minigame), and it's the ideal Major Skill by definition.