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Character Build: The Dungeon Runner

Tags: #Character Build Rogue  #Character Build Acrobat  #Character Build No Crafting  #Rank:Mythic  #Hall of Fame Build  #Build of the Week 
  • Member
    July 22, 2012

    Art by user TheFirstAngel at deviantART

    This build can be best described as a handful of tiny subversions. It appropriates some small triumphs from past builds, rejects one highly prized Skill, and sticks its tongue out to the concepts of dungeon raiding and pacifism. Still, no matter how many Perks and powers, it's a concept built on using personal skill to get things done. One for the brave, the bold – and the fast.

    In short: it's part parkour, part speedrun and part trolling AI. If that seems appealing, read on!

    The Dungeon Runner

    Political upheaval threatens the Empire's grip over the land, and old legends are proving to be more dangerous than the flames of war. While power struggles and dragons are considerable threats to Skyrim, some look to this time of conflict and change as a sign – there's profit to be made, and the sooner it's made, the better.

    That's when a Dungeon Runner is hired.

    Some believe them to be nothing more than silver tongued scoundrels, showing more fluency in words than actual skill. Others simply see them as expert retrievers, capable of seeking out priceless artifacts as well as human quarry. Unlike rogues or lesser cutthroats interested in hoarding Septims, however, Dungeon Runners' name comes from their proficiency in swiftly procuring things – for their masters or themselves. Be it crypt, dungeon or ruin, a Runner will often get in and get out with only the main prize in mind, dismissing everything else.


    I'd hesitate to call this a glass cannon. More like a glass bulldozer, perhaps. The concept is pretty simple. Get in, fulfill your quest objective, get out. And do it fast. Part of the Dungeon Runner's appeal for me was launching enemies into the air, kicking them while they were down, then strolling away with their prized possessions while they were still trying to understand what hit 'em. Fighting enemies is still here, but mostly they're pushed aside given the character's focus on Shield Charge. Difficulty isn't much of an issue either, as almost all high level enemies, whether vampires, mages or dragons, were handled with regular shield bashes, scrolls or certain effects on weapons (more on that later).

    You'll also note that some skills and perks might seem useless. Why bother with Treasure Hunter with all the loot in Skyrim, right? Well, I wasn't kidding when I said a Runner only has eyes on the final prize. The goal of the build is to bypass every enemy in a dungeon and ignoring everything in the way whenever possible: weapons, potions, ingredients, gold coins, etc. As such, any perk or ability that grants better chances of finding gold and leveled items will be relevant during the big payoff – the loot at the very end of the dungeon, be it fallen enemies or chests. I've also largely ignored Enchanting, by the way. And now that I've put off min/maxers with that last sentence...

    Sample character is Viatrix, a female Imperial. Imperials fit the role-playing purpose since they find more gold than other races. Their Voice of the Emperor is also helpful in calming foes. Racial alternatives for this build are Redguard, for stamina regen, and Orcs, for temporary extra damage and defense. As usual, Bretons have good magic resistance.

    Stone: Alternate between The Lady, to regenerate Health and Stamina 25% faster, and The Lord, to get +50 in armor rating and 25% in resist magic, depending on what type of enemies you'll face on your mission.

    Magicka: no points. You won't really need to.

    Health: 200 points to get a 300 total of unmodified health. This is particularly useful in Master, since that mode's difficulty tends to get spiteful – enemy finishing moves trigger even with a very generous amount of health and arrows often turn into silent instant kills. If you feel the health pool to be too low in higher difficulties, dump 100 more in it instead of stamina.
    Stamina: all other points are dumped here, for a total of 700 unmodified stamina.

    The Build, Levels 1 to 25

    Block: Shield Wall 1 > Quick Reflexes > Deflect Arrows > Elemental Protection > Block Runner > Shield Charge > Shield Wall 2 > Shield Wall 3

    Lockpicking: Novice Locks > Apprentice Locks > Adept Locks > Golden Touch > Treasure Hunter

    One-Handed: Armsman 1 > Fighting Stance > Armsman 2

    Light Armor: Agile Defender 1 > Custom Fit > Agile Defender 2

    Sneak: Stealth 1 > Muffled Movement > Light Foot

    Alteration: Novice Alteration > Apprentice Alteration

    Quick notes: your main objective is getting Shield Charge as quickly as possible, with the Lockpicking tree a secondary concern. Light Foot may seem like a waste but it helps the character's theme – besides, you're positively not stopping, and it has the side-effect of having enemies try to follow you but falling prey to the traps you have not triggered yourself (pretty good with bear and flame traps). Do note that tripwires are still triggered when you pass through them.

    The Build, Levels 25 to 50

    Block: Shield Wall 4 > Shield Wall 5

    One-Handed: Armsman 3 > Armsman 4 > Savage Strike > Armasman 5

    Light Armor: Agile Defender 3 > Unhindered > Agile Defender 4 > Wind Walker > Matching Set > Agile Defender 5 > Deft Movement

    Speech: Haggling 1 > Allure > Merchant

    Smithing: Steel Smithing > Arcane Blacksmith

    Enchanting: Enchanter 1 > Soul Squeezer

    Alteration: Magic Resistance 1 > Magic Resistance 2 > Magic Resistance 3

    Quick notes: I did say I largely avoided Enchanting – just not everything about it. For this build, the majority of encounters are hit and run, go back and hit them again, rinse and repeat. The effectiveness of the Shield Charge is really something to behold and it can be used on the vast majority of enemies – Bears, Trolls, Chaurus Reapers, Frostbite Spiders... Even Dragon Priests are stunned, though they aren't thrown aside. There's no burning need to enchant weapons since your attack style will mainly be shield charging, then taking advantage of enemies being stunned or grounded to hit them. And even though you can't shield charge Dragons, you can block bash them – that extra Stamina will help.

    The Speech skill tree is mainly for role-playing a Runner well known among merchants, and whose experience with dungeon raiding attracts buyers. In game terms this translates into being able to sell *and* buy items they normally wouldn't stock. Be prepared to find Ward spells for sale at Warmaiden's and apothecaries eager to buy your War Axes, for instance.


    With the Dungeon Runner, I've been switching between Adept, Expert and Master modes to get a feel for how it's like. The main concern was survivability under the concept I had laid out for myself, and so far I rarely felt squishy. Here's why. My equipment at level 50 is comprised of the following (I'm only mentioning relevant bonuses):

    *Shield of Solitude (Magic Resistance 30%, Blocks 35% more damage) – I also used the Targe of the Blooded on occasion, though bleeding damage isn't significant on Master; in lower difficulties, it stacks nicely with the damage they take from the bash and falling from greater heights
    *The Nightingale Armor set (+40 Stamina, +50% Resist Frost, +25% Damage with One-Handed attacks) – I actually wanted to use the Guild Master's Armor, but it can't be improved ;_;
    *The Gauldur Amulet (+30 Stamina, Health and Magicka) – when necessary, switched with Amulet of Talos (reduce shout cooldown by 20%)
    *Windshear (staggers opponents) – when necessary, switched with Nightingale Blade (Absorb 25 points of Health and Stamina)
    *Whatever Ring may be useful – usually, generic magic apparel that fortifies stamina regen rate does the job

    The Shield of Solitude, coupled with 3 points in Magic Resistance and the Lord Stone, gets you the 85% magic resist cap without investing in any enchanted gear. The 35% blocking from the shield also seems to stack with Block perks. The Nightingale Armor's 50% frost resistance piggybacks on Elemental Protection's 50% elemental defense (for as long as the shield is up), meaning the one element that could slow you down and reduce your Stamina doesn't do much, if anything, when used against you. Besides, the armor set gives an additional 25 points to defense.

    Windshear is used as the main weapon. The stagger effect, unlike some enchantments, isn't based on chance – every attack always staggers opponents. The Nightingale Blade doubles as attack and defense weapon, stealing health and the much needed stamina for your shield charging. Both weapons only require the Arcane Blacksmith perk to be improved (Windshear needs Steel Smithing, but that's a prerequisite anyway). In terms of combat, this mean you have a shield and weapon that can stagger, with the sword not taking up stamina unless you power attack.

    Note: the main gear is level dependent. This means there's a point at which their enchantments will be at their maximum, and getting them at lower levels produces lower enchantments. The Shield of Solitude tops at 40+. The Nightingale set, it tops at level 32+. For the Nightingale Blade, it's level 46+, with the previous threshold (level 36+) only stealing 20 health and stamina instead of 25. You might want to wait until you're level 46+ to do the related quests.

    Spells, Shouts, Powers, Blessings

    No spells:

    During this playthrough I found no reason to use them. Not because the build is formidable in dealing with everything, but because while ranged attackers and mages can be troublesome, the aforementioned perks, equipment and high stamina pool makes it so blocking and running to get within their melee range is more than enough to deal with hazards. There are very rare instances of ranged attackers which you can't normally reach (as I'm typing this, I can only think of the Draugr in one of the tombs required for the Gauldur Amulet), and when that's the case, there's always Shouts.


    Whirlwind Sprint – doubles as a speed boost in cases when you might run out of stamina.
    Unrelenting Force – always useful, specially against far away ranged attackers, but I used it primarily against stun locked enemies, or to push enemies back long enough to activate dungeon traps (bladed pendulums) and close iron gates (they don't seem to know how to open those).
    Disarm – situational, but helpful when low on stamina and you want to stop enemies from blocking with two-handed weapons.
    Frost Breath – area of effect damage and slow effect, good synergy with shield charging.
    Ice Form – same as Frost Breath, but against fewer (usually tougher) opponents.
    Marked for Death – In Master difficulty, repeated uses make the damage of shield charges and bashes slightly more valid methods of combat.
    Slow Time – an extended version of Quick Reflexes when you're out of stamina, and doubles as escape route.


    Agent of Dibella – a good choice if you stick with a female character for the 10% bonus damage against enemies of the opposite sex, though it's optional.
    Dragon Infusion – to avoid untimely death by superior teeth count.
    Force Without Effort – less staggering for you, more stagger for them.
    Nightingale Strife – once a day, can drain 100 points of health from a target.
    Prowler's Profit – more gems, yay.


    Arkay (+25 Health), Kynareth (+25 Stamina), Talos (another 20% shout cooldown) and Stendarr (block 10% damage with shields) are all encouraged depending on your needs. Stendarr's is particularly beneficial when training Block at higher difficulties.

    What *am* I going to do with all this money?

    You might have noticed there are no points invested in the likes of Restoration or Alchemy. This is mainly why. All the perks and passive abilities that influence gold and gem rewards will not only let you find more practical loot (Soul Gems) but also enough money to purchase potions of all kinds. These perks often get criticized for not being necessary at all, but this criticism neglects that not all people necessarily enjoy crafting or enchanting, nor do they appreciate slogging through a hard dungeon only to find iron helmets, clothes and a silver necklace. Treasure Hunter really lives up to its namesake when you're finding Dragon Armor pieces at around level 50, not counting a higher chance of getting generic enchanted gear – and generic or not, necklaces of 100% resist elemental damage and rings of Major Smithing (17%) before level 30 are nothing to sneer at.

    Also, I opted for simply cooking instead of using Alchemy. Some recipes are surprisingly good for a Runner, since they recover, regen or fortify both health and stamina.

    Finally, all that money can also go into training. The Alteration skill is the primary example of this, since it doesn't force players to spam the likes of Waterbreathing or Detect Life.

    Final Notes

    I had pretty fun moments in this build. Most of them surrounding the character's attempts to reach the end of a dungeon. Because most combat is avoided, enemies that weren't killed start getting up and chasing the Runner, so eventually, it's not just about the concept of being fast – you're running for your life.

    It's expected that skills like One-Handed, Smithing and Lockpicking will keep improving given your use of them. This build only contemplates specific Perks for these Skills, but that doesn't mean skills need to stop being used, smithing being a primary example of this as you'll want to reach 100 to max out your smithing.

    There are not many special abilities to talk about – Shield Charging really is the meat and potatoes of this build, with nearly all shouts and powers having good synergies with it, and I've already covered those. One advice when starting out: get drunk. My last unarmed build made extensive use of wine and mead found in dungeons in order to use more power attacks; here it helps a Runner's continuous charging. It's like designers planned this.

    Further advancement is really up to players, and it's even possible to rework the character from the start. With Bretons, you get 25% magic resistance, which means one less perk in Alteration, and the chance to absorb incoming magical damage with Dragonskin. An interesting variation would be to drop One-Handed and go with a Destruction school of your choice. Another would be to drop Block and One-Handed, go with Restoration and Destruction, make Magicka your main star instead of Stamina, and choose Magic Absorption instead of Resistance. Taking the Impact perk may not project enemies around but it stuns them, and casting Flesh spells and dual casting Wards is pretty effective. Suicidal, but effective. A shield and spell combo isn't bad either. You'd probably end up like this:

    Two things that did not make it to the build were:

    *Investing in Pickpocketing, to get Light Fingers 1 > Night Thief > Extra Pockets to haul more loot. There's so much Stamina that this seemed excessive, unless you want to carry more potions and meals.

    *Getting Telekinesis. Other than the Eagle Eye synergy I found out, all tests I've been making suggest that the smaller the items thrown with TK, the better. Spawning three Troll Skulls and propelling them does less damage than grouping four gold coins with Alteration Dual Casting and throwing them. Gold coins – and gems, which you'll be finding a lot of – are almost like bullets when used with TK. Sure, damage done in Master is still terrible but creatures with natural armor (werewolves, citizens, bears, etc.) tend to go down faster with coins.

    I find this pretty amusing, because coins are the one item that remains invisible in the inventory and can't be normally dropped. Not being a conspiracy nut, I'll have to assume Bethesda had some other reason to not let players do this. I'll try to explore that in a future build - I just couldn't justify it on this one.

    “Can't stop the glee inside/
    when face and shield collide”
    -Nameless minstrel

    PS: This is a small video I made of the build. It's not the best video ever and only really gives an idea of how I usually play with it. Apologies for the low quality and lack of sound, as it was the only way I could capture the video without a tremendous framerate drop in Skyrim. Also, during the playthrough, I seem to hit invisible walls - they are spiderwebs, which are invisible because I used the the "teofis" console command to disable special effects in order to get better FPSs.

    Other builds by me:

    Moonblade - Ebon ScourgeBlight Priest - Avenger Druid





  • Member
    July 22, 2012

    Note: the eye patch and extra pouches in a couple of pictures are mods. I'm only using them for aesthetic purposes.

  • July 22, 2012

    This is an interesting build, this is exactly what i expected to see when Ponty put up his 'seeker' build ages ago and yet to this day i'm still confused about what his character actually 'seeks'.

    I really like the concept of an elite infiltrator, going against the clock to achieve their goal or assassination. Its  like a medieval swat team. Its hard trying to sell a build that uses a level 100 perk but this is the best example I've seen. Definitely a +1

  • July 22, 2012
    This is a breath of fresh air. And before I rave about it, I should preface this comment with this admittal of bias: I think the Block skill tree is HANDS DOWN the best in the game. There's no better reward for taking a skill to level 100 than Shield Charge; it's an incredibly effective, game-changing and most importantly FUN ability (not to mention all the other perks in that tree that are awesome, life-saving, or both, like Quick Reflexes, Elemental Protection and Disarming Bash). One of the very first builds I tried to love was an unarmed-aside-from-his-shield Khajiit, and were it possible to trigger kill cams with that combination it'd still be my main probably. Unfortunately for me, no kill-cams that way and so no shield-focused build, because, really, what's Unarmed without the chokeslams? And so I gave up a Block focus. Until now, at least! I'm a big fan of some of the ideas here. I think trying to survive dungeons by flying through them with your trusty shield and not so much worrying about killing everything as preventing everything from killing you is just a great way to make the Block tree the star of a build in a way I just couldn't with my Khajiit. I would even consider skipping Windshear (though it IS a great complement for this style) and see if it would work as a passive build with Shouts like Disarm and Whirlwind Sprint. Your idea for pairing it with magic is awesome too, because Slow Time + a dozen Ice Storms + Shield Charge = gone enemy once time speeds back up again. Like literally gone lol. Anyway, enough rambling. +1!
  • Member
    July 22, 2012

    See, this is what's great about this site.  Great, innovative ideas giving us a whole new way to approach the game.  Liked. 

    It's a damn shame Windshear is questlocked at the end of the DB questline, of all things.  I can't imagine ever using it, because most characters I would run the DB with wouldn't use a scimitar, and most character's I'd run with a scimitar wouldn't do the DB.  Regardless, the main idea here - run like hell through a dungeon, eyes on the prize of that big boss chest at the end - is indisputably awesome.  And I think it would even work - though it might be tough - at lower levels, when you don't have your Block tree all filled out. 

  • July 22, 2012
    Instead of Windshear you could go with spells/staves like Calm and Paralysis to just take enemies out for a bit and run past them. I think a Cryomancer version of this build would rule, not only for the aforementioned spell/shield combo from my last comment but also because Ice Form would make for a beautiful Shout to disable enemies with to get by, also. Become Ethereal and the Aetherial Shield would also be great. Lots of potential to make this build a passive champion lol.
  • July 22, 2012

    Really like this idea and plan on starting a character like this soon. Only thing I am changing is light armor to heavy armor. I want the character to look like a big juggernaut with the helm of yngol and shield ysgrammor.

  • Member
    July 22, 2012

    nice build I dont care for avoiding a fight but this is still a great build from me you get +1

  • Member
    July 23, 2012

    Wow, really glade you enjoyed it Mason, thanks :D

  • Member
    July 23, 2012

    Really glad you enjoyed it, No snakes aLive :)

    Yeah, some of the things in this build came from several tests I ran with unarmed. I think I tried a bit of everything, actually, even developing block but using torches to stagger and burn enemies.

    I think a more passive variation is possible with the Talos amulet, a temporary Talos blessing and enough stamina to shield charge and block while waiting for the shouts to cooldown is very doable. I seriously considered Ethereal Form too, but in the end I opted for other abilities to complement the build in other ways, but it's definitely a good shout to have.